Still Crazy After All These Years

Some people say I’m crazy. I’m a keen scuba diver and I love to see BIG fish. So later this year, I’m going to South Australia to dive with some very big fish – Great White Sharks. I want to get up close and personal with them – but don’t worry I’ll be in a cage.

So it won’t be too scary, or will it? When I spot those enormous pre-historic creatures with huge mouths containing endless rows of razor sharp teeth swimming towards the boat, their hunger aroused because of the baits we’ve been dragging in the water and we’re told to jump in to join them – I’ll be able to control my amygdala, won’t I?

Or will my heart pound out of my chest, will I shake uncontrollably, will I breathe too rapidly, will my mouth go dry, will I have had sleepless nights imagining the ropes on the cage snapping or the bars breaking – what do you think? In other words, will I experience The Almond Effect? Will my almonds go nuts even though I know, rationally, that I will be safe – the trip operators told me they haven’t lost anyone yet!

Unwanted agitation

Despite researching and presenting workshops on managing The Almond Effect with STAR, I, like everyone else, am regularly reminded of how our ‘almonds’ create daily agitation in our lives (and in the lives of people around us) if we’re not vigilant.

Just this week, my almonds have mobilized when the driver of a car who was driving while talking on a mobile phone almost crashed into me; when a client rang to cancel a workshop; when I realized that I would have to participate in an auction for a property; when the lift in the building seemed to get stuck for a moment or two; when I forgot I only had a $5 note to buy lunch and the bill was $7; when I realized that I had only 2 hours left to complete a proposal – and no doubt, many other times that I can’t even remember.

Each time adrenaline flowed through my body causing my heart to race and a momentary inability to think without emotion, strong emotion! Yet the only real life threatening situation was the potential crash.

Even when we know what is happening to us, it takes STAR (Stop – Think – Act – Rewire) practice and persistence to respond in a considered way when our amygdala wrongly categorizes something as an event to be mortally afraid of, sending us into instant fight/flight mode so we end up saying or doing something we regret or could have done differently!

Dealing with irrational fears

Fear is an essential component of our survival mechanism. When we are frightened, our amygdalae become more active and lay down extra memories, richer and denser memories – as part of their way of building up our protective instincts. That’s why we are more likely, over time, to remember a terrifying moment in a bad movie than an introduction to an important but boring person at a corporate networking function.

But we need to be able to consciously deal with irrational fears – because our amygdala doesn’t know the difference. So the more you put yourself in a situation that you fear, the more you experience the journey though your fears, the more you face your fears and realise that you will survive, then the more control you have over your amygdala and The Almond Effect.

This is a time when, to re-work an old cliché – familiarity doesn’t breed contempt – it breeds capability, confidence and control.

And in addition to practicing with the real thing, you can also build up your skills using visualizations, role plays, and controlled exposures.

Some people have fears that even though they are not life threatening, seriously debilitate them in every day life. To get over this, they can go through ‘exposure therapy’ – experiencing what they fear, often and closely, in a monitored, structured and supported way so as to become desensitized to it. This is what happens in fear of flying programs. And a participant in one of my programs recently got over her fear of spiders by going through a program like this run by Toronga Park Zoo in Sydney.

But sometimes your fears – like telling the boss you don’t agree with them, telling your partner you’ve pranged the car, participating in a performance review discussion, attending a job interview, pre-meeting or presentation nerves – simply require STAR control on the spot: Stop – Think – Act – Rewire.

Sometimes other people need to point it out to you

Often we are not even aware that we are in the grips of The Almond Effect ® – especially those times when its effect is subtle – like recently when I was unnecessarily grumpy at my truly supportive husband as I was preparing to race 3 kms in an ocean that looked like the water was boiling. Have look here to see what I mean.

Be grateful if someone is skilled enough to manage their own amygdalae to risk pointing out to you that you may not be acting sensibly. If your amygdala is so engaged that it prevents your self-awareness from clicking in – you may have to depend on feedback from others – even if you don’t like what you’re hearing at the time.

Tell me your Almond Effect story and I’ll send you The Almond Effect e-book

In scary but non life threatening situations our pre-frontal cortex can only get us to believe we’re safe and behave rationally if our amygdala calms down long enough for the cortex to get a look in! That’s the part we have to work on – calming down. I’ve often talked about STAR in these articles but what’s your trick for doing this?

I’ll send you a copy of my e-book: Where Did That Come From? How To Stay In Control In Any Situation – Proven Tips to Manage The Almond Effect if you’ll share your experiences of The Almond Effect ® with me.

I’d love to hear your stories about The Almond Effect, how it impacted in a big way or just subtly, at home or at work, your personal experience or what you saw in others. What did you do when it happened? Did you use STAR or your own version of it? How did or do you catch yourself in the grip of your amygdala? What did or do you do to calm yourself down? Then what did you do? What have you learned from the experience?

Until we can pop a pill…

The Almond Effect happens to us far more often than we realise – probably every day. In the future we may be able to swallow a pill to take away our sense of fear – experiments with mice have shown that when the gene strathmin is removed the rodents become fearless – apparently eating ‘magic mushrooms’ has the same effect!

Until then, as humans living in the 21st century with part of our brain still on the look out for ambushes by marauding wild beasts, we have to train ourselves to control our responses to our amygdalae so we don’t end up doing or saying something we later regret. I’m looking forward to finding out how you do it.

© 2010 – 2014, Anne Riches. All rights reserved.

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