Most of us have a hard time accepting. Somehow we feel that by accepting something we don’t like, we give it our stamp of approval. Or worse, accepting equals hitting the like button. That is not the case. Acceptance means that we stop resisting what has happened and what is happening as a result. Acceptance is key in becoming a calm and assertive leader. Only when you have accepted where you are now and what isn’t working for you, you are in a space where you can see new possibilities and take the neccessary steps towards realizing your vision. Restistance, or stress, contracts our brain and impairs our ability to think creatively. The more we resist what is happening, the more likely it is that we will not find a way out of it. It’s like a dog on a tread wheel that keeps running to get out. Ironic, isn’t it?
In our brain, we have an alarm system and an emergency alert system. When the alarm goes off, the emergency alert system is activated, which readies our body for the so-called fight-or-flight response. These systems increased our chances of survival drastically when we were still living on the savannah surrounded by hungry lions. When faced with a lion, our ancestors had no choice but to deal with it. Accepting a situation as it is has nothing to do with resigning or giving up. It means dealing with the present moment. When in a life-or-death situation, we do not have the luxury of giving energy to things that do not matter at that moment, our reproductive organs don’t function and our food doesn’t get digested. All our energy is focused in this moment, on whatever will increase our chance of survival. When faced with a threat, our ancestors assessed the situation they were in and took the action that would give them the best chance of survival, which translated in either fight or flight. This helped their bodies get rid of the stress hormones that were released when the alarm went off in their brain and when the threat was dealt with their bodies returned to a state of balance.
Life has changed significantly. Our lives are going at speeds our ancestors could not have imagined. Our alarm system is triggered continuously, not by lions, but by their modern life substitutes that make us feel unsafe, various social and emotional threats. This morning, I got up with stress pumping through my veins, which, when assessed, was the fear of not delivering. I am in the process of creating a new website, I started writing a book, I have several ideas for other books, I was writing this blog that didn’t come easy and I want it all to be a success, I want as many people as possible to benefit from all that I have learned in the past 15 years on how to be authentically happy.
When the fight-or-flight system is activated, we litterally tense up and we see everyone and everything as a potential threat. Stress hormones are cascading through our body, telling it to fight or flight. When don’t do what our bodies are designed to do, which is use up this built-up energy in our muscles, our body gets into a stress loop, where it releases more stress hormones which narrows our focus even further on things we fear and that upset us, which releases even more stress hormones. Resisting what is happening, what has happened or what might happen triggers and continues the fight-or-flight response, which leaves us feeling edgy and / or anxious or translates into physical symptoms or both. This loop keeps us focusing on problems, on why things aren’t working. Remember the dog that keeps chewing and chewing and chewing or the one chasing its own tail. Or the dog that I realize now I didn’t mention, the dog that barks at everything. When our mind is displaying this kind of behavior, it has been hijacked by our body and it is stuck in the physical stress loop. Let’s stop the tread wheel and get our mind out.
We can turn down the fight-or-flight system with physical exercise, which metabolizes the stress hormones and gets them out of our system. Or we can activate our rest-and-digest system. These systems go hand in hand, they are designed to work together. A slightly activated alarm system makes us feel alert and alive. The same level of activation of the rest-and-digest system makes us feel centered and peaceful. When they are working in harmony, we feel calm and assertive at the same time. When these systems are balanced, we feel good about our lives, about ourselves and others, we feel calm and have a clear view of the outcome, and we have a sense of ease and flow. When our fight-or-flight system is in overdrive, the rest-and-digest system is our gateway to compassion and creativity.
Acceptance is equalizing both systems. It is a physical return to this moment. We may not like what our life looks like right now, and that’s okay. There is nothing wrong with us for wanting things to be different, that’s how life evolves, but we have to come to terms with the fact that we cannot change the past. And we have to forgive ourselves, others and life for the things that have contributed negatively to where we are right now. We can only do that in the present moment.
Next time, when things aren’t working as you would want them to, or when your mind is racing, or when you’re feeling stressed, even without knowing why, let go of the stress and try one of these techniques to get your mind out of the loop and get you back in this moment.
- Take a warm shower or let warm water run over your hands. Focus on the sensation of running water, feel how it touches your body.
- Drink a cup of warm tea. Feel the cup in your hands, take deliberate sips and feel the tea go down your esophagus, warming your body.
- Put your hands on your belly, breathe in and direct your breath towards your hands, ‘filling’ your belly with air. Then breathe out. This is called deep breathing. When you master this technique, try and go upward once your belly is full, expanding your chest and even your shoulders ‘filling’ them with air, until you’re all puffed up, then exhale slowly. In yoga class, we would sing Oooohmmmm on our exhale. And although this felt very weird in the beginning, I soon realized that somehow it resonated in my body and it helped me release tension more quickly.
Our imagination is an extremely powerful tool. There are even studies that indicate that the imagining of muscle contraction is almost as effective as real muscle contraction . Let’s use this to our benefit.
- Close your eyes and imagine the laughter of a loved one or the last time you laughed so hard your belly hurt. Take in the memory.
- Get a hug and if no one is available, give yourself a hug. And if you have a hard time feeling love for yourself, hug yourself and imagine you’re hugging your best friend. Feel the connection.
- Put one hand on your heart and the other on your belly. Breathe in, imagine the air entering through your heart, flowing to your belly and exhale ‘through’ your heart again. Once you master this, think of something that makes you feel real good while breathing. What happens is that your heart rate and the positive feeling your evoking merge into what is called heart coherence. Your heart rate slows down and becomes more regular, and you feel alive and centered.
Whatever you give your energy to expands. After you have successfully returned to this moment, try some bridging while focusing on the desired outcome. Create a feel good loop. It works the same way as the stress loop, but with different hormones that feel so much better. It takes practice. Activating the fight-or-flight system has become a habit. But with every stress loop break, and with every new feel good loop, your brain gets wired for a more relaxed and happier you.
In part 6, I’ll discuss a new exercise in the mind agility training, learning to pause on purpose.