You are in the middle of an important launch that you and your team have been working feverishly to complete. You just realized that one of your important business systems has once again, gone on the fritz. Your immediate inner response is anger, resentment, and you find yourself thinking, "f*#@% it! I'm so sick of this!" And, all you want to do in this moment is throw your hands in the air, fire your entire team and give up on your business completely.
As someone who has been working under constant stress that has lead you into, or at the precipice of, burnout this type of scenario may feel familiar to you. Allow me to normalize how you feel. And, while you embrace your humanity, please read on for important information to get back to feeling stress-free.
Every moment there is opportunity to choose which thoughts and feelings we focus on, and in doing so, we can change how we perceive things.
You can change how you are perceiving things this very moment.
You can choose a perception of reality that nourishes you and enriches you. Or, you can choose one that deflates you and diminishes you.
Many people are passive to all of this and choose to not exercise this power. They are reactive versus proactive. And, particularly reactive to stress and the plethora of things that can go wrong in the running of a business.
It’s easy to be this way since the brain is literally designed to do this. The brain is hardwired for fear. Inside your brain, the Thalamus, the brain's window into the world, receives all of the messages from your eyes, ears and other sensory organs. It sends messages directly to the Amygdala (your stress response command center) and to the Neocortex (your "reasoning" and intellect command center).
The Amygdala is capable of setting off a tidal wave of fear - the stress response that puts you immediately into survival-mode, sending out signals to increase your heart rate, your blood pressure and more. During this time, is typically when you find yourself flying off the handle, shouting expletives inside your head and perhaps doing all sorts of things unbecoming of you.
This is what Daniel Goleman refers to as an "Amygdala Hijack" in his book, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ" (1996). Amygdala hijacks "are emotional responses that are immediate and intense, and out of measure with the actual situation because it has triggered a much deeper emotional threat" (Goleman, 1996). Think back to the movie series, "Back to the Future." Our main character, Marty, is normally pretty calm, cool, and collected until somebody calls him "chicken." Whenever he is called "chicken" we witness an Amygdala Hijack in action.
Yet there is a quarter of a second window where the Neocortex can intervene and override the Amygdala's stress response. In any moment when you are triggered into wanting to give up, do something self destructive or sabotaging to your business, you can make a different choice. You can focus your attention on thoughts and feelings that nourish you and choose behaviors that resolve the situation.
This moment is what author, Tara Bennett-Goleman calls, "The Mindful Quarter Second" in her book, Emotional Alchemy, and it's based upon the studies of neurosurgeon Benjamin Libet. Essentially, what Libet discovered is that every urge that you feel has a quarter of a second window of opportunity when you can disengage from it. In that quarter of a second you can consciously veto the automatic response of your Amygdala to respond to the perceived stress or give in to feelings of burnout.
The idea is this. Whenever you have the urge to respond to an emotion , you have a quarter of a second to choose your response. And, in a state of burnout, that quarter second can make the difference in your ability to move beyond the burnout and back to feeling alive again or getting pulled deeper in. When you are burnt out, its easy to go with the default, "I don't care", "who gives a shit anyway" mode but deep down you know that's not who you are or how you want to be.
How do you build the awareness of the life changing quarter of a second?
It comes down to mindfulness of this in-the-moment of choice that is always available to you.
When you are burnt out (and I know this sounds completely undoable right now yet stay with me) you must make a decision to change it. You must find your way to willpower, to that place within you that KNOWS that you can get back to your old self again.