The Critical Seconds


“I can’t believe I just said that, I am sorry – it came out all wrong that is not what I meant. I am sorry, I should think before I speak …” As my friend, Jan, trying to explain the situation over the phone with her boyfriend, Chris, responded “yes, you should have” and he then hung up on her. This happened six years ago.

Have you ever experienced the “I shouldn’t have done that” moment? May that be the email you have just sent, things you said or the action you just did? While with Microsoft Word, you can click on “Undo”, or with Gmail you can use “Undo Sent” in 5 seconds or with LinkedIn you can have “15 seconds to un-publish”, but when you are interacting with another person, there is no way to “undo” what had just happened. Worst of all, as my grandma puts it “I can forgive, but I won’t forget” and “by the time that one says sorry, it is already too late”.

The best thing is “don’t do it”; stop before it happens. It seems simple, but to Jan, it sounds like “Mission Impossible”. This article will explain to you how our response is formed and how we can create change with NLP.

It is all because of the Amygdala
I first heard about the Amygdala when I learned about the “fight-or-flight responses”. Listed in the Gray’s Anatomy as the nucleus amygdalæ), the Amygdalae are almond-shaped groups of nuclei located deep the brain in complex vertebrates, including humans.

The amygdalae perform primary roles in the formation and storage of memories associated with emotional events, where they form associations with memories of the stimuli. This is for both fear and appetitive (positive) conditioning. In his recent interview with Harvart Business Review writer, Peter Bregman,  Assistant Professor Joshua Gordon, a Neuroscientist at Columbia University, “There are direct pathways from sensory stimuli into the amygdala …, the emotional response centre of the brain. When something unsettling happens in the outside world, it immediately evokes an emotion”.

The Interplays of Mind and Body

Figure 1.  An Illustration of the different parts of human brain
Figure 1. An Illustration of the different parts of human brain

I remember the time that I was an IT project auditor, appointed to check on the quality of a project delivery as was carried out by a group of contractors. To ensure the quality was up to standard before it was handed back to in house support staff, I as a junior programmer and the only permanent staff member representing the company, was requested to carry out a series of auditing activities. As I carried out my work diligently and finding multiple areas that required re-work, the program manager and project manager (both contractors) become very unsettled.

One night as I was working late, they invited me to go into their office, which is situated in a rather prestigious club. The program manager, in front of her team of six people sitting on either side of her, pointed her finger at me with one hand and slammed the table with the other and roared “How dare you second guess me with your audit report”. Unsettling, was an understatement, my first reaction was to cry and slap her face for humiliating me in front of a group of strangers. My heart was pumping hard, my breath was fast and I felt my brain become very fuzzy. I heard myself saying in side “No you can’t slap her, she is just trying to scare you; take a deep breath, wait a minute, then respond.”

What happens at the moment of facing an unsettling situation is that our body is ready to respond; in the past it was “fight or flight” response. When we perceive or sense that there is danger, the sensory information is relayed through hypothalamus to the brainstem (The brainstem (or brain stem) is the lower part of the brain, adjoining and structurally continuous with the spinal cord.)

Figure 2.  Hypothalamus in our brain
Figure 2. Hypothalamus in our brain

That rate of signalling increases the rate of noradrenergic activity, which means that the stress hormone – norepinephrine is produced and affects parts of the brain where attention and response actions are controlled. Both epinephrine and norepinephrine, directly increases the heart rate, triggers the release of glucose from energy stores, and increases blood flow to the skeletal muscle. The person experiencing the stress now becomes alert and attentive to the environment and ready to act.

This chain of events creates various degrees of changes and reactions within us chemically and physically. In NLP, the easiest way to explain is by understanding New Code NLP’s “Chain of Excellence”, simply put; your level of performance (or behaviour) is dependent on your emotional state (which is related to your brain chemical productions), which will have a corresponding physiology and breathing pattern (respiration).
When I ask myself to wait and take a deep breath, I am asking myself to change my breathing pattern, physiology and emotional state so that I can perform or behave in the way that is optimal for the situation.

At the same time, I am also allowing myself the time for my prefrontal cortex to work. According to Dr. Gordon “The key is cognitive control of the amygdyla by the prefrontal cortex. If you take a breath and delay your action, you give the prefrontal cortex time to control the emotional response”. And he says it only take the prefrontal cortex a second or two to respond.

It seems Google’s 5 seconds is a good guide. So, go back to my experience at the club, I took a breath to calm myself down and wait for a while and responded in a way that no face was slapped, no tears were shed and the issue was resolved with the right level of escalation within the company hierarchy.

As to Jan, after calming her down through breathing exercises, I asked her to mentally play out how she would like to respond and step into Chris’s shoes to notice how he might re-act. Based on how Chris might re-act, Jan made changes to her approach to convey her feelings and messages differently. Six years later, Jan shared that “that day when we (Chris) argued over the phone, marked the turning point in our relationship, because we learned how to manage our emotions as well as being considerate to each other’s feelings”.

How NLP techniques can help you

One of the fundamental skills that NLP teaches is the individual’s ability to self observe and become very self aware of how they are contributing to the current relationships that they are observing. In other words, we are observing the role that each of us play in a current situation and create alternate behaviour accordingly.

Not only do we teach people how to become self-aware, with NLP we also teach students how to really step into another person’s shoes and consider other people’s perspectives, not just our own. To be able to self-observe and consider other people’s perspective is key for building successful relationships, creating harmony and makes us human.

Another fundamental skill that one can learn from NLP Practitioner training is how to re-program our own responses or neural-pathways to create change. The simplest way that you can do is remember a time that you might have lost your temper and reacted very strongly, only to regret what you said or did later. This is a bit like watching a movie frame by frame, right to the end of the event.

As you watch this mental movie, notice the frame that presents the behaviour that you would like to change. While noticing the frames you would like to change, pay attention to note your alternative behaviours that might be more suited. It is like you are the producer in the editing room, chopping and changing the sequence of the film over and over again until you are satisfied with the film. Once you feel good and satisfied with your new film, act it out mentally or physically as if you are in the film. Pick three more potential situations that might happen in the future where your new behaviour would be useful, create a new film and act it out mentally or physically, as if you are rehearsing a role.

Another simple way is using NLP’s “Chain of Excellence”. These days, whenever I notice I am about to react in a way that will only make things worse, based on the NLP “Chain of Excellence”, I might change my breathing pattern, my physiology or simply pause to give my prefrontal cortex the time to respond differently and change my emotional state.

There you are – a few very simply ways you can use NLP to enhance and improve the quality of your life today. Improving the quality of life is one of the main benefits that our students get from our NLP training programs. Now is a good time to become aware of how to improve your lot in life, because our next NLP Practitioner course is starting very soon in Brisbane.

Improving the quality of your life and your emotional intelligence is an investment for the rest of your life.

This year we will reach out to the Sunshine Coast and the Gold Coast as well. So, an invitation from us to you to make improving your quality of life a priority this year, learning NLP will be a good way to achieve that. If you want an NLP training course that is as good as you will find, contact us. We value our reputation for attracting the best students who really want to make a difference in their own life as well as others.

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