Ten years after the establishment of a new policy, the time is ripe for us as a community to delve into these questions and to better define the specific skills we need to build and refine. It is my experience that doing so can greatly enhance our presence, confidence, and bringing a clear mind and an open heart in our work.
On Friday I convened 47 people to a discussion on Polyvagal Theory and how bodywork / body therapy can address and support the functioning of our nervous system, particularly the branches of the vagus nerve. Everyone who joined was a Zero Balancing practitioner, like myself, and the discussion was rich.
We are wired to respond to stress
As humans we have access to several response to stress including fight, flight, freeze, submit and attach. Previously it was simplified to fight/flight or rest/digest and it's 'freeze' that's newer and comes via research by Dr Stephen Porges and the Polyvagal Theory. The freeze (or faint) response is the nervous system essentially playing dead via lowering blood pressure, reducing the ability to hear/listen, process sounds and words, and also potentially affect memory following the event, as a few examples of what it looks like.
It's important to note that freeze, and all of the stress responses, are called up not just in response to life threatening events -- they can also be in response to events PERCEIVED as life threatening. And the more one is activated from previous stress or threat, the more likely a new threat will be perceived as high, or higher than it actually might be. Whether or not it reads the threat correctly, the body is doing the best it can with the information it has to protect you and your life.
We're bio-psycho-social - the response is adaptable
Whatever your reaction to stress, it's normal. We're all whole people and our bodies are doing the best they can to keep us alive. Fantastically, your response can be updated with new information. We are adaptable. There are specific activities that can boost emotional and body intelligence so the responses are to the current conditions rather than a memory of a previous event including --
Develop body awareness
Learn to self-regulate
Receive safe touch
Find soothing social engagement -- eye contact, smiling, talking softly
The heart of interpersonal neurobiology has shown we're wired to respond to our surroundings, especially people, in the growth and development, and perhaps healing, of our nervous systems. We are designed to be social creatures and can change most rapidly in connection with others.
Books and Charts
Polyvagal Theory in Therapy by Deb Dana
Clinical Applications of Polyvagal Theory by Stephen Porges and Deb Dana
Questionnaires and Research
Bulletproof Radio: Stephen Porges: The Polyvagal Theory & The Vagal Nerve
Time guide to specific interests --
4:00 start here
14:35 (understanding how the autonomic nervous system responds)
24:30 (how the inner ear of a mammal differentiates frequencies related to danger or safety)
34:50 (how to calm the nervous system -- spoiler alert: leave out the loud bass)
44:30 (how do I practice this?)
49:35 (THE ACTUAL THEORY!)
54:40 (If I want to be a better human, what are the three things I should know?)
On Thursday I was asked in an interview how I would assess success at the end of a day, or perhaps a week. An insightful question that was a first for me to field.
I said I would think through three things --
How much truth did I tell? How kind was I? How much trust did I build?
What level of product did I deliver?
Did I advance the business?
And then I would ask myself, “If I compromised in any of those three areas, Was it worth it? Was it an overall win?“
What would you have said?
“A culture is defined as the organisation’s pattern of response to the problems and opportunities it encounters. Three dominant types—pathological, bureaucratic, and generative—are described. These types are shaped by the preoccupations of the unit’s leaders. The workforce then responds to these priorities, creating the culture.”
In what ways might you have a conversation about your org structure that help you perform as a team? I’ve compiled a Team Operating Agreement Template and Field Guide to Team Operating Agreements that might be of assistance. Download below.
Training your attention is complicated, in part, because "attention" isn't actionable - it's an aggregate activity. Noticing is its progenitor.
Noticing is taking stock of facts that surround you. It is an activity. It's actionable and measurable - you can tell when you're noticing or not noticing. The information you collect while noticing, consciously and unconsciously, allows you to build context which informs your field of attention -- a sort of expanded state of consciousness - that can then inform choices. While we talk about training attention, and the attention economy, the leverage point is noticing what we notice. We notice alerts, pings, sounds, etc... but what if we chose to notice something quite different -- our immediate situation.
Perhaps you're sitting in your living room, or reading this on the bus en route to work. Wherever you are, take a moment to notice three things that are facts -- an object you see, something you smell or is there music playing... or what color is the door? how many windows are in your room? are there other people near you?
By pausing to note facts (notice) you alight from passive and step into agency. You can also chose to be affected by what you notice - how does the texture of the curtains feel on your palm, or how do your shoes move on this floor? In this way you will engage even more of yourself, your brain and mind. The more you notice and interact, the more information you'll gather and have at your disposal to assess. Rather than self-instructions to "stay safe" or "don't forget your pitch," noticing awakens your senses so that you are part of what is happening -- this is whole person engagement and situational awarenss.
Noticing is good will and participatory. It may take time to develop. It's like a language. Your first toddler sentence was likely somewhat jumbled. Language develops as a collection of sounds that attempted to convey what we're thinking, feeling or want -- the cognition develops long before the ability to articulate it. What if you think of attention as a language and noticing as the mechanism for building grammar and vocabulary? With practice comes acuity.
Attention is often associated with love -- but attention is what’s felt - a bi-product. Noticing is the participatory end of attention and how we engage with love.
Next time you feel nervous or don't have a plan for executing at the level you want or need, take a moment to notice something - anything - in great detail. You'll be practicing the grammar and vocabulary of attention so you engage and uplift the capacity of your whole self. This is a conscious, constructive plan for actualizing what you desire. And is an act of love to yourself and others.
Informed and Inspired by —
Ellen Langer (The Art of Noticing, Mindfulness and The Power of Mindful Learning)
Carl Rogers (A Way of Being)