Chris Markiewicz's Blog
Every Monday – thoughts, observations and ideas that hold up a mirror to who & how we are

Are you mis-using your life saver?


A few years ago I was doing some errands in Potters Bar, not far from where I live. I stepped off the pavement on the High Street and hadn’t realised that there was a bus just ten feet away from me.

 Unfortunately, it was a bus in motion and it was moving towards me, rather than away from me. Thankfully though, I had my amygdala with me, and I survive to tell the tale.

 My amygdala was a life saver.

 So, what is my amygdale and where did I get it? Well, it’s not some kind of zapper gun or gyrocopter that whisked me away from the situation. It’s actually part of my brain and I’ve had it since birth. In fact, we all have one.

 When our physical life is threatened, we flip into fight or flight reaction in order to save our skin – either by seeking to overpower the threat or by hotfooting it out of there. Thankfully I chose the “flight” option when spotting the bus – grappling with a no. 80 double decker on its way to St Albans will have ended up pretty messy.

 This fight/flight reaction is initiated in a nanosecond by a most primal part of our brain – the amygdala.

 Now, we could argue that, in the relatively safe environment we live in nowadays, it would be a pretty rare thing to employ the services of this small, almond shaped part of our brain. Despite what we may read in the papers or see on the news we live in incredibly safe times – at least here in the UK. We can go about our business on a day to day basis with a 99.9% chance of staying safe and surviving to live another day. Our forebears needed to use it far more often when, for example confronting physical danger whilst out hunting for food etc.

Nowadays,  our amygdalas should be enjoying protracted periods of chill time simply taking it easy, dozing on the sun lounger with just half of one eye open to check for that rare occurrence of life threatening danger.

 Yet, many of us may engage our amygdala any number of times in a given day – without even realising it.

 What am I referring to?

 We come into the office after a day off and a piece of work that we’d asked a colleague to complete hasn’t been done:

 “Jeez, I ask you to do just one thing and you haven’t done it – why the f*** not!” we instantly blow.

 Or we come home after a hard day’s labours, craving a nice cup of tea and “he/she” hasn’t been out to buy any milk

 “I’m at work all day, and you couldn’t even get up off your backside and go down the Spar to buy a pint of milk!!”

 Or – we meekly go the other way:

“Oh, I won’t make a fuss, I’ll have a chamomile tea, it’s better for me anyway”

 So, we react either in aggressive (fight) mode or  passive (flight) mode.

 Either way we are using the flight/flight for something it wasn’t designed to do. Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence calls this the “amygdala hi-jack” and we do it too much of the time.

 Now, we’re not going to DIE if the piece or work isn’t done or the tea has no milk, so what is it that we’re protecting by reacting in this way?

 Our egoic life.

 Often as dear to us as our physical life, our egoic life includes things like our pride, status, position, reputation etc. These things are closely related to our values and are what drive us so much of the time. This is powerful stuff – people kill for their values. Some even kill themselves in the name of their values (eg,  suicide bombers). If our values or related needs are disrespected or violated in some way, there is a great risk that we will react by allowing our amygdala to be misused – hi-jacked.

 So, what’s the solution?

 Don’t react. Respond.

 These two terms are usually substituted for each other. However, in my personal lexicon, they mean very different things. When we respond, we take a considered, measured approach – we think things through before taking appropriate action. It needn’t take long and could even be as simple as drawing breath before speaking.

 That way, we deal with the upset in a responsible ie: “response-able” way rather than impulsively flying off the handle or shutting down. We are then less likely to end up having a row and tainting the relationship, bottling things up or finding ourselves over stressed and exhausted by constantly reacting to situations.

 However, all this does not make the amygdala redundant.

 Would it have worked for me to respond to that no. 80 bus? I don’t think so.

 So, as you launch yourself into the week ahead, notice when you may be reacting rather than responding. What effect does that have? How does it feel? Are you able to choose to respond instead?

Give your amygdala a well earned rest – and take care stepping off them pavements!

www.chrismarkiewicz.com                     chris@chrismarkiewicz.com

TRAINING – COACHING – FACILITATION – SPEAKING ENGAGEMENTS

One Response to “Are you mis-using your life saver?”

  1. Chris, I don’t normally disagree with you, but I like to keep my amygdala well trained and healthy, hence why it has an outing more frequently than one would normally expect, ask my family !!. The thing is, when I really need it, like you did with the bus, I have to ensure that it is ready to kick in and hasn’t gone on a 20 min vacation of the type you talked about last week !! That’s my defence


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