In the beautiful city of Sydney where water restrictions are imposed, an elderly man was watering his garden. It was legal. He was watering his roses in the late afternoon, within the time limits imposed by the water restrictions in his neighbourhood.
A younger man passed by. It seems that the men exchanged words about the watering and an altercation broke out. Moments later, the older man was dead. A grandfather, a father, a husband’s life snuffed out in an instant over a garden hose. The words had become blows leading to the older man’s death.
What could have happened?
The next day, in a road rage incident, a driver hurled a full bottle of water at the car of another driver. Fortunately, no one died in his incident.
On the same day, a manager at an office told a staff member that she had “!@#$$% up”, that she had to stay back late to make up for it or he would dock her pay. Her ‘error’ was a delay in delivering a report to his office caused by a power failure in her building that trapped her in a lift for an hour.
Why do so many people ‘lose it’?
When you look around your world – at work, at home, in the street, on the road, or simply watering your garden – why do we see so many examples of people just ‘losing it’, losing self-control and allowing almost animal type behaviour to take over?
We see it on the sports field – biting incidents, punching – where grown men (and sometimes women) – lose self-discipline in the heat of the moment. Sometimes the crowd urge them on – why? If we urge them on, what do we want to see happen? Physical harm? How much? Death? Sometimes the behaviour is seen for what it is – lack of self-control and unprofessional.
At home, we see domestic violence, verbal abuse and hurtful comments – often resulting in fractured relationships and mental if not physical harm to people in the place where they should be most treasured and secure.
A woman and her son were charged today with killing the woman’s husband over 10 years ago, then cutting up his body and scattering the body parts. One arm and the head have not yet been found. It is suggested that extreme domestic abuse was involved.
What are we wired with the flight/flight response for really?
Stop for a moment and think about your levels of self-control. Think about the levels of self control in the real life examples I have just given.
In the last example, the woman may really have feared for her life. Her amygdala may well have caused her to act in order to preserve her own life. If this is true, then it is unlikely that any amount of logic would have prevented her from seeing any other way out of the intolerable situation that she may have been in.
If she did kill her husband in these circumstances then this is flight/flight at its extreme but probably what the brain is hard-wired for – self-defence.
But watering a garden? A disagreement about road rules? A sporting event? An issue at work?
Do you have self-control?
So please consider: have you ‘lost it’ to any degree, anywhere, anytime, with anyone, over the last week?
- Did you argue with a shop assistant or a call centre operator?
- Did you ‘snap’ at your partner or your kids?
- Did you speak aggressively to a staff member?
- Were you sarcastic or make an unnecessarily snide remark?
- Did you fail to speak up at a meeting when you disagreed with a proposition, or someone clearly was distorting the truth – or worse still, stealing your ideas?
- Did you fail to tell the truth at a performance appraisal meeting?
- Did you just walk away from a discussion you need to have at home because it could be uncomfortable?
What was happening in these situations? Was it The Almond Effect? Was it an inappropriate response by your amygdala because, in fact, you weren’t actually ‘about to die’ even though that’s all your amygdala is geared to look out for. As we know it can’t tell the difference between a real and perceived threat to life. But your “thinking you” can.
The Almond Effect doesn’t have to play out as violently as some of the examples I have given. It’s happening when your amygdalae (almonds) are engaged and you are feeling fearful, anxious, irritated, defensive, embarrassed and so on. Have you felt like that this week?
Don’t get me wrong. These feelings are a ‘natural’ reaction to events that happen around us if the incidence trigger patterns, memories or a history of things that we believe (mostly at a sub-conscious level) could harm us in some way.
It’s what we do about those triggers that determines our maturity and self-control and our leadership abilities.
Be a STAR
In previous articles, I have written about being a STAR. Do you remember it: Stop – Think – Act – Rewire.
S: When you catch yourself being worked up or feel an unhelpful emotion coming on, like fear, anger, frustration, STOP. Stop yourself from immediately reacting. Take a deep breath. Count to 10 – whatever it takes.
T: Then THINK about what is really going on. What are the consequences/ outcomes you really want to come from this situation?
A: Then ACT – do whatever you decide is the best thing to do for the outcomes you would want outside the heat of the moment.
R: Finally reflect and review what went on. Where did the reaction come from? What caused it? How can you learn to manage that reaction in future? In other words, how can you REWIRE your amygdala?
Stop – Think – Act – Rewire
The biggest challenge is to catch yourself experiencing The Almond Effect. Learn to watch for the signals – increased heart rate, perspiring, clenching your fists, your teeth, simply feeling agitated – everyone has a different signal.
If the horrible examples of The Almond Effect that I have given don’t motivate you to reflect on when this happens to you – let me be provocative: do you think that you have ever hurt someone emotionally because of your lack of self-control? Are you proud of it? Did it get you the result you wanted – in the short term, in the long term?
Self preservation in the 21st C
The Almond Effect® is a powerful emotional reaction – hard-wired into humans for self-preservation hundreds of thousands of years ago.
But this is the 21st C. If you are reading this it is likely that you live in a society where the elementary and basic needs as set out, for example, in Maslow’s hierarchy means that we are fed, sheltered, and secure. Of course, there are external threats that we cannot control – terrorism being a key example where The Almond Effect ® is exploited for appalling outcomes.
I urge you – become really conscious of examples of The Almond Effect around you. When you read the newspapers and watch the news, when you observe people at work, when you look at sport – actively consider: how many examples of The Almond Effect are you noticing? Even this exercise will help you become aware of the conscious and unconscious moments we later regret – when we have allowed The Almond Effect to rule our lives inappropriately instead of us being in control of how we act and our impact on others.