Freeze, Fight or Flight, which comes first?

For us modern humans working in offices, freeze usually comes first. 

This is especially true when speech and language are involved. We interact with someone and then we have to process a potential verbal attack. Although the brain ultimately doesn’t differentiate between a literal and a metaphorical threat, it still takes longer to figure out words than it does actions.

Our brain prepares us for fight or flight – shunting oxygen from the brain and dumping chemicals in our bloodstream to make us stronger and faster – to MOVE. Meanwhile, we’re frozen. And then when our body screams at us to move, but we’re in an office, in a meeting, on the phone, we also know we can’t. So we stay frozen. And ten to thirty minutes later when the chemical ‘dust’ clears in the brain we think of things we wish we had said – the verbal versions of fight or flight.

When does fight ever come first? In traffic when road rage happens, fight usually comes first.

Which comes first for you – freeze, fight, or flight? Does that help you in life? How does it hinder your development to becoming your best version of you?

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Freeze, Fight or Flight?

When we get emotionally triggered, it’s common to call that our ‘fight or flight’ response. 

There’s a third option that may be the most used, however: freeze.

This is the classic posture adopted by small(er) animals. Then they choose flight, or like the possum, may just continue with freeze.

At the beginning of a potential threat, an animal (and we’re animals) may be uncertain the location or severity of the threat, even if it really is a threat. So fight or flight doesn’t make sense yet. Freeze happens.

When your brain gets hijacked by something that feels threatening, what’s your go-to – freeze, fight, or flight?

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Da Vinci on building a team with strengths and weaknesses

“An arch consists of two weaknesses which, leaning one against the other, make a strength.”

Leonardo da Vinci

The ideal team recognizes that each person has peaks and valleys, highs and lows, strengths and weaknesses. 

Taken individually, a person might try to fix those weaknesses, obsess over them, or hide them. Our brains are wired to look for flaws. It’s old survival behavior.

The new way individually is to stop obsessing over weaknesses and focus on strengths more. 

And the best way to build a team is to look at that team as three-dimensional. There are peaks and valleys based on individual strengths. And interestingly, those peaks and valleys overlap and cancel each other out. One person might be horrible at follow-up, another one is brilliant at it. One person might excel at winning suspicious people over, another person might consider that a worst nightmare scenario. 

The ideal team forms a series of Da Vinci’s arches. People with a weakness in an area lean on other people on the team that have that strength – whether to shift work responsibility, energy support or tactical suggestions. These pairings take away the weakness from the team. The vulnerability shown and interdependence explored with those mini-collaborations is what the team trust is built on – arches.

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Seinfeld tries to help Kramer one more time with the power of purpose

Comedian Michael Richards blew up his career one night in 2006 when he lashed out with a racist tirade in response to hecklers at his comedy act. There are small moments of emotional hijack – where the amygdala overrides the thinking part of the brain and strikes out – and there are big moments. This was a BIG moment, caught on camera, immediately ending any post-Seinfeld career for Richards. And taking a man from beloved Kramer to despised and reviled racist.

A decade later, his old friend Jerry Seinfeld had him on his show Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee, in hopes of helping him out. It was sad to see how damaged Richards is from his self-inflicted hijack. He had a wig and sunglasses to disguise himself in public. He must have gotten a lot of abuse returned to him in public over the years, and you could see both the shame and the armor he puts up to protect himself.

At one point, Jerry said something meaningful and it broke through the armor. 

Michael: “You know those performers who just love it? It was always a struggle with me.”

Jerry: “No, no, no. I don’t accept the judging of process. We’re all trying to get to the same island. Whether you swim, fly, surf, or sky-dive in, it doesn’t matter. What matters is when the red light comes on.”

Michael: “Sometimes I look back on the show and think I should have enjoyed myself more.” 

Jerry: “I could say that myself. But that was not our job. Our job is not for us to enjoy. Our job is to make sure they enjoy it. And that’s what we do.”

Michael: “Oh, that’s beautiful. Because I think I work selfishly and not selflessly. It’s not about me, it’s about them. Now that’s a lesson I learned when I blew it in the comedy club. I lost my temper because somebody interrupted my act and said some things that hurt me and I lashed out in anger. I busted up. It broke me down. I should have been working selflessly that evening. It was a selfish response. 

I took it too personally and I should have just said: ‘Yeah, you’re absolutely right. I’m not funny. I think I’ll go home and work on my material and I’ll see you tomorrow night. But – you know – it was just one of those nights. And thanks for sticking by me. It meant a lot to me. But inside it still kicks me around.”

Jerry: “That’s up to you. That’s up to you to say, ‘I’ve been carrying this bag long enough. I’m going to put it down.’”

Michael: “Yeah…yeah.”

This is the cost of a deficit of emotional intelligence. The darkness that Richards made public lives in all of our brains hoping to assert itself in its own way. The cost of not being able to manage your emotions is steep – everything we’ve worked for can be taken away in a moment of emotional heat. We’ve all done and said things we regretted. And the news gleefully points out public meltdowns daily. And that one moment can lead to a lifetime of regret.

There are many paths to avoid this trap. I outline many in emotional intelligence team development trainings. But Jerry and ‘Kramer’ show us one to try today. Selfless or selfish, who are we working for? What’s the purpose to all this? Everything we do in some way either helps or hinders others, and we either notice this or not. Start with small moments to escape your very own ‘career-ending emotional hijack’. And use those small moments by reorienting the focus from you to them. 

Get clear about the job as defined by Jerry. Make sure they enjoy it. Make sure they are served. Make sure we’re helping, not hurting, all day, all life.

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How many times a day does the average person check their phone?

Q: How many times a day does the average person check their phone?

A: 85 times a day

Experiment with airplane mode, leaving it in a drawer, in the car, at home, turning it off, do not disturb. There are lots of options to help you stop sabotaging yourself. 

In a world of distraction, only focus is king.

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How much time does the average person spend on social media?

Q: How much time does the average person spend on social media?

A: Two hours

“If I only had all the time back that I wasted on Facebook!”

It’s a common lament.

If you had all your Facebook/Instagram/Twitter time back…what would you do instead? 

The best time to ‘do what you would do instead’ was when you first joined. 

The second best time is today.

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Viktor Frankl on why you can’t be replaced

“Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life; everyone must carry out a concrete assignment that demands fulfillment. Therein he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated, thus, everyone’s task is unique as his specific opportunity to implement it.”

–       Viktor Frankl

Automation is coming! The robots are taking over! The Brookings Institute estimates that 25% of US jobs are at high risk of being automated. Hint: if you’re in production, food service or transportation you’re particularly in danger.

Emotional intelligence is one of the things that so far is least likely to be automated. If you want job security invest in your emotional intelligence.

But Frankl isn’t really worried about automation. He knows you can’t be replaced if…

If you

  1. Quest to find out what your mission is in life
  2. Look for your specific opportunity to implement your mission.

If your life can’t actually be repeated by anyone, or by a computer, make it obvious. 

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Forky from Toy Story 4 and Albert Camus on your life’s purpose

“A person’s life purpose is nothing more than to rediscover, through the detours of art, or love, or passionate work, those one or two images in the presence of which his heart first opened.”
–       Albert Camus

  1. Art
  2. Love
  3. Passionate work

These are Camus’ three – the ways to rediscover those precious things that you saw and felt when your heart first opened. Of the three, I’m guessing that love is what first opened your young heart. It could have been love for another person, love for the natural world, anything. 

A child often doesn’t discriminate what it first loves – witness Bonnie’s love for Forky in Toy Story 4. Her art also became her love – a plastic spork.

What matters to us? How to thread that narrow path once again and taste what we first glimpsed?

Camus offers solid advice here. The three ‘detours’ lead to what can’t be found on any map. Today and all life long, the three detours are ready to lead us back home.

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Ursula K. Le Guin on power, knowledge and choice

“As a man’s real power grows and his knowledge widens, ever the way he can follow grows narrower: until at last he chooses nothing, but does only and wholly what he must do.”

–   Ursula Le Guin

When we’re young, the way is wide open. We don’t have power or knowledge. By the time we hit middle age, many doors previously open are now closed.

We can mourn that loss. It’s human to do so and need to.

Also true, but not noticed as much is the power and knowledge we’ve gathered by being alive and awake closed many of those doors. Cul-de-sacs and dead ends drop away as we get wiser. Eventually? There’s no choice at all. We just do what we must – the narrow path of our passion.

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Thomas Berry says “Nothing is itself without everything else”

Every living creature, every particle all tied up with every other living creature. Everyone and every thing you and I come into contact, we are part of each other. What I do to you, I do to myself. 

The daily ‘awareness eraser’ called modern life does its best for us all to forget that.

Yet we’re at our best when we remember what Mary Oliver wrote, “our place in the family of things.”

“Everything is integral and interacts with everything else. This means that nothing is itself without everything else. There is a commonality, an integrity, an intimacy of the universe with itself.”

— Thomas Berry

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