By Scott Westerman
What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters. Compared to what lies within us. – Emerson
When we find ourselves in the depths of an adventure, a challenge or an emotion, the topography of our environment can be an unwelcome distraction. Get a promotion, win the lotto, announce that you’re considering a life-changing decision and you’re showered with advice and admonition. Become what others call successful and you’ll be surrounded by those who hope to get a free ride on your coattail. Become dethroned from a popular job or relationship and you may know new definitions of loneliness and self doubt.
It’s all in your head.
During my instrument pilot training, I loved flying the simulators for this very reason. The good ones create a visceral experience that can teach you how to safely navigate a bad situation reflexively and with confidence.
Our ability to stay centered when our Matrix-like world seems to bounce around like a pinball can have a significant impact on our health, our careers and our enjoyment of life.
Harvard physiologist Walter Cannon first articulated what we call the “Fight or flight response“. This genetic protection mechanism, that helped us survive the tiger attacks during the stone age, prepares our body and mind for action. We breath faster, our blood races toward muscles and limbs, our vision becomes more acute, endorphins diminish the perception of pain.
Fight or flight can also be triggered by our daily circumstance. If you find yourself in this mode often, it can lead to chronic health issues.
Learning how to stay centered can calm your body’s natural tendency to jump into defense mode. Here are some approaches that might work for you.
Change your environment – My favorite maxim, “Change what you can, accept what you can’t change, and remove yourself from the unacceptable,” applies here. If you’re living in an environment where fight or flight is constantly triggered, consider an exit strategy.
Change your perceptions – We can’t always control what happens to us, but we can learn to control how we react. Doctor Neil Neimark, an M.D. who specializes in helping us cope with modern day tigers, calls this, “viewing the difficulties of life as events that make us stronger and more loving.”
Exercise – Your body’s capacity for stress and the speed with which you can recover are directly connected to your level of fitness. Repetitive exercise, swimming, walking, running and yoga can trigger what Dr. Herbert Benson describes as “The Relaxation Response“.
Breathing, progressive relaxation, meditation and mindfulness training can also be powerful tools to help you stay centered. Spiritual practitioners from the more traditional religious traditions also find that prayer has the same effect. If any of these pique your curiosity, google them to learn more.
Life is fired at us point blank. No matter how we may plan and prepare, the events of each day do their best to knock us off balance. The good news is that we can learn how to turn on our powerful inner gyroscope to stay on course in spite of the turbulence… and enjoy the ride!