One of the things we know about the human brain is that is VERY good at doing the task at hand IF it has the right system operating. But each system has BOTH limitations and attributes. Its strengths in one situation can present as weaknesses in another.
I like to think of it as trying to create a PowerPoint on Microsoft word. I mean, you can kind of do it but it will be messy and WAY harder than if you just switch systems. Why not use the system that was DESIGNED to create a presentation?
Fight or Flight
This is particularly relevant when we are talking about our sympathetic nervous system. This is the part of your body that's responsible for how you respond to danger and for firing the fight or flight response to help you survive. This response system is highly evolved and is the reason why humans are alive today.
In historic times, the fight or flight response fired when anytime there was a real risk of physical danger present. Now, it fires anytime we sense physical or emotional danger. Frankly, this response loop has a hair trigger, and we're stuck in it way more than we should be (when we have a deadline at work, an argument with our spouse, we're stuck in traffic...).
Our body doesn't know the difference between perceived risk and real risk, so. although there is no life-threatening danger present, it prepares as though there is. It releases hormones, cuts off non-essential systems, and creates intense focus on surviving by either fleeing or fighting.
The fight or flight response inhibits the reasoning center of your brain in favor of the reactive center of your brain. THIS creates a snowball effect of limited thinking.
The last thing your brain is prepped to do when it's in full fight or flight is to think outside the box or come up with creative solutions. There is no time for that when you are 'fighting for your life'.
When our focus narrows, we stop seeing solutions around us.
I KNOW you've noticed this in yourself or others. It presents itself as:
- Your partner suddenly leaves the room when you're in a fight.
- Your teenager completely forgets their speech as soon as they step onstage.
- Your friend sees their ex in the supermarket and hides.
- Your toddler rips a toy away from their younger sibling as soon as they see they have it.
It’s so obvious to see that this behavior is irrational and a direct response to stress when you see it in others, but It takes so much more discipline to notice it in ourselves, and even harder to get ourselves to snap out of it.
Here is one way.
Solve the Problem
In our family we have a saying: “Solve the Problem.”
This is what I tell my 4 year old.
- Can’t open the drawer? Solve the problem.
- Got your toy stuck behind the couch? Solve the problem.
- Sister took your cup (the one you didn’t want until she took it)? Solve the problem.
This way, even if she requires my help, she’s thought through solutions and not allowed herself to have the knee jerk fight-or-flight response of 'it can’t be done', 'it’s too hard', or 'there is only one way and it's not working'.
And it works for my husband and me too. When we run into a problem at work that puts us in fight or flight mode, here's what happens:
We are human, so our first response is to narrow our focus. Let’s fight the problem or let’s get away from the problem. Tip: This doesn't actually work all that well. Then, We talk ourselves down from fight or flight, ask ourselves, what is the real risk here? Open ourselves up to every situation in the world (even if it seems 'unrealistic), and come up with as many creative solutions as we can.
When we do this, a few main things have happened:
- We’ve allowed ourselves to believe there IS a solution (even if that solution is just to change our attitude about it)
- We’ve empowered ourselves that we are not a victim of our situation.
- And we’ve opened our mind up to creative actions we can take.
I see this a lot with my mindset coaching students too, especially when it comes to the ultimate fight or flight trigger: MONEY.
Money triggers the fight or flight response almost like nothing else. It gets to our core fears about survival. So, when a coach tells me they can’t afford to be in our Mindset Coach Certification, often, it’s their fight or flight knee jerk reaction. (Sometimes it just means they don’t really want to, which is a different thing).
But the truth is, the coaches that take action feel that response too. Everyone feels that response. The difference is that they choose to reason through their auto response and not let it dictate their action. They switch systems in their brain to open themselves up to creative solutions where they can think creatively about HOW to find the money they need. They borrow, they sacrifice, they change their honeymoon location (like one student did), they get their athletic department to pay for it (like another did), they have a serious talk with their spouse (like many did), they SOLVE THE PROBLEM.
Their focus expands instead of narrowing.
So, next time you feel yourself stuck in a problem, one really simple thing to do is to sit down and list ALL the possible solutions to the problem (no matter how far-fetched they seem).
Even if you don’t actually take action on any of the solutions, opening yourself up to the fact that there ARE solutions will take out out of fight or flight and into a headspace where you can give yourself the chance to actually solve the problem.
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In our Mindset Coach Certification, we bring together a small group of like minded coaches and train them over the course of 4 months to develop the skills and education to enact real, lasting change in others. One of our core philosophies is that the key to being a great mindset coach is to train your own mindset first, so we teach strategies for self-growth and development to help coaches align their values with their actions all while teaching actionable mental training tools to implement with others.
Here's how one coach overcame her self-limiting mindset to join the Mindset Coach Academy: