Picture this: you are about to present ideas and insights in front of your colleagues. This is what you are good at. You know your stuff. But your body is awash with stress and fear, and you can’t remember a word of what you prepared. Your logic has just been hijacked by fear.
This – and similar situations – happens to us all. The amygdala, the center of emotions, simply takes over. Any strong emotion – sadness, anxiety, pain, rage, or fear – sets off the amygdala and impairs the prefrontal cortex’s working memory. In other words, the power of emotions overwhelms our rationality. That is why when we are emotionally upset or stressed, we can’t think straight.
The amygdala is considered our brain’s watchdog, steering our life based on emotional memory. It’s a guard that sets off alerts whenever we encounter situations that resemble past experiences that scared or hurt us. It’s a warning and nothing more. You do not need to know exactly what something is to know that it is dangerous. This happens on a unconscious level, in a split second, and while it’s designed to protect us, it’s also what limits us in our relationships both private and professional.
So, let’s take a closer look at what is happening. Here are three examples of how you can expect your amygdala to show up:
- Fear is triggered – for no logical reason
It could be triggered by that person in black clothes who just passed you in the street. Or a returning fear in a specific situation. When you rationalize it, the fear does not make sense. It’s either out of proportion or the fear still has the upper hand even though you’ve worked with the “issue.”
- You have “what was I thinking” moments
The thing is you weren’t thinking. The amygdala is designed to steer your “fight or flight” response. Your body and mind get caught up in various neuro-chemical processes that make it extremely difficult to think through the situation with a calm and logical approach. In fact, we lose 10 to 15 IQ points temporarily and momentarily have less brainpower. It can take up to four hours for your mind/body system to calm down after the hijack.
- You’re overreacting
The amygdala hijack is an overwhelming and immediate emotional response. Later it’s easy to realize that this response was inappropriately strong given the trigger. Looking back, it might feel like you “lost it.” It is a survival mechanism that lets us react to things before the rational brain has time to mull things over, often distorting things in a quick reaction. Daniel Goleman (author of Emotional Intelligence) cites neuroscientist Joseph E. LeDoux, who demonstrated that some emotional information travels directly from the thalamus to the amygdala without engaging the higher brain regions. This causes a strong emotional response that overrules rational thought.
Take back your power
Today’s way of living and working means that most people are walking around with more stress, apprehensiveness, and fear of uncertainty. These are different types of blocks, and they affect not just you and me, but organizations and work environments on a daily basis.
We know that emotions are “contagious,” and can jeopardize (executive) decisions and deteriorate teamwork, relationships and collaboration. So if you are a leader, your ability to deal with your emotions is vital. You are the “emotional thermostat” for the team and can influence their mood and productivity. According to Hay Group, leaders have 50-70% influence over the climate of the team.
Now, the emotions stored in the amygdala seem to have a “life of their own.” To put it metaphorically, it’s a soul baggage that’s full of new and old memory files mixed up from this life and past incarnations. We do what we believe is best, but unconscious emotions will always overrule conscious decisions. So in order to create permanent change, you need to connect with the part of you where emotions and (old and new) beliefs are rooted – the amygdala.
However, it does not have to be hard to take back your power. In fact, contrary to what many logical approaches suggest, you do not even have to “manage” or “cope” with these emotional hijacks (endlessly).
When you experience strong feelings, you cannot argue with the amygdala to make it stop what it was designed to do, to protect you. This is the reason why logical approaches fail in the long run.
You can release yourself from the hijacks by addressing your blocks – at their root cause. The method is called FREEBLOCKING®, where we use kinesiology to muscle test the tension of the nervous system, and in this way, you come into contact with your unconscious truths and beliefs.
Together, we carefully and respectfully explore the root cause of your block when you (and your soul) are ready to deal with it and release what no longer serves you.
The result: you’ve released your emotional block for good, you stop coping with emotional hijacks – and you take back your power. Now you can take the next step toward your full potential.
The Harvard Business Review (2003) offers a great reminder of the importance of self-awareness: “Executives who fail to develop self-awareness risk falling into an emotionally deadening routine that threatens their true selves. Indeed a reluctance to explore your inner landscape not only weakens your own motivation, but can also corrode your ability to inspire others.”