Saturday, 21 September 2013

Don't be Primitive

"Never cut a tree down in the wintertime. Never make a negative decision in the low time. Never make your most important decisions when you are in your worst moods. Wait. Be patient. The storm will pass. The spring will come." - Robert H. Schuller

When humans were hunter-gatherers, our fight-or-flight instincts allowed quick reactions when faced with a predatory threat or hunting opportunity.  In those situations rational thinking takes too long and needs to be bypassed.  Reactions needed be autonomous rather than conscious, because there was literally no time to think.

Today we don't live with such immediate threats and our food doesn't run away from us.  Evolution though hasn't caught up with our change in circumstances and we continue to carry these instincts into the modern workplace.

That adrenaline jolt down the back of your neck and increased heart rate you felt when fleeing or fighting off a predator is now experienced during a heated negotiation, argument or tight deadline at the office.  It's a change in physiology stemming back from thousands of years and unfortunately it now serves little benefit.  All it encourages are knee-jerk reactions that are suited to life threatening situations, not the concrete jungle. 

Adrenaline and an increased heart rate served a purpose: they shocked you into physical action.  Now there's nothing to physically acting against: you're either racing to complete a report or justifying yourself to management and peers.  Yet the same primal physiological changes occur when you're in a tight spot because your autonomic nervous system sees little difference between running from a predator and a pressured situation at work.

Experiencing this change in physiology regularly is unhealthy and it bypasses your logical decision making progress.  Increased blood pressure, hormonal imbalances compounded by tenseness and muscular pains are the physical consequences.  Because you are sedentary, all that adrenaline build-up has no outlet to dissipate through.  You end up making snap decisions and unconsidered responses, with consequences that often last much longer than your bout of anger or tenseness. 

It's mostly incorrect when we refer to a situation as "tense;" what's tense is our reaction to it.  But because our evolution is still at the juncture between cave man and modern man, one needs to consciously dissipate, transmute and transcend these involuntary reactions.  It isn't always as simple as choosing to stay calm.

Meditate regularly. Meditation trains the brain to think slowly and keep cool. It transcends your instinctual reactions and this will pour over into your waking life.

Take note of what triggers you. It can be a person, specific situation, certain words or even a tone of voice that induces the fight-or-flight reaction from you.  When you are away from the coalface, start taking note of these triggers and begin pre-meditating a different, calmer more constructive reaction with your mind's eye.  This is difficult to do, but with repetition you can condition better responses that will eventually become automatic when faced with stressful situations. 

Never go for more than two consecutive days without exercising. Exercise dissipates the body of adrenaline and releases tension. You're literally working the toxic remnants of stress out when you exert your body.

Be organized, be prepared. Work towards having all information and due reports as prepared as possible. Have everything neatly filed and easily accessible. The idea is to avoid situations where you feel 'cornered.'  When sudden requests/demands arise you won't feel flustered.

Make important decisions when you feel calm and resourceful. There's a reason they say don't shop on an empty stomach: even when shopping for food that you will only consume later, a study shows that low blood sugar influences your thinking and causes you to buy more high calorie food.  Your physical state affects your decisions, so ensure you're in a good place physically and emotionally before making a decision.

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