In 2016, I stumbled upon Daniel Goleman’s book, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ.
When I read the book, I developed my first understanding of emotional intelligence. It helped me understand the importance of controlling my impulses. It was a big revelation for me. Something I was not aware of. So, I had to really work at it. I became more mindful of it. Over time, meditation helped to control my impulses.
When I was journaling in preparation for this blog, one incident stood out.
I was on the phone in my bedroom with my fellow Toastmaster Dan, trying to get some important information. I rushed into the living room to collect my laptop and my brother shouted, “turn off the bedroom light!” I lost my temper in that moment. I lost control and said something I am ashamed to have said.
This project helped me analyze this incident and hopefully have more impulse control in the future.
I was curious why it happened. I had been totally focused on the phone conversation with Dan. Since I was trying to assimilate important information, I was using the neocortex part of my brain, the part we use for problem solving. The neocortex is the part of the brain where our higher self lives. It is also the seat of compassion and reasoning. When my brother asked me to turn off the light, my reasoning brain was not available. I was not mindful of what was happening. The amygdala, my reptilian brain, was activated. This part of the brain is where anger and aggression reside. It is our fight or flight response brain. It helps us to survive when we’re in danger. The actions and emotions that spring from the reptilian brain do so automatically, without our having to think about it. I let it have the worst of me.
What can I do to avoid this in the future? I did some research on the The International Alliance of Healthcare Educators website where I found an article about how to make friends with your reptilian brain. The article suggests that in that split second, I should stop and breathe. Breathing is usually taken care of without conscious effort by the reptilian brain. But we can also control our breathing. The next time I am in a similar situation, I am going to breathe in and out, deeply, and slowly, right down and into my belly. It will calm my fight response immediately. When the breath is calm, the mind follows. I will be able to detach from the impulses of the reptilian brain and bring reasoning to the situation. I can make a conscious shift to the neocortex.
Have you ever come across a situation like this, where your impulse reaction took over? If you have, you can follow the same technique to breathe in and out, deeply and slowly, right down into your belly. Using this simple action, we can all take control of our reptilian brain and win back our power to just breathe.
Written by Abhijeet Joshi, VPE of Women L.E.A.D. Toastmasters