Chances are that if you’re reading this you’re at your saturation point. You’ve taken in more information than you ever thought possible about an unimaginable pandemic that is changing your reality so quickly, your mind is ready to explode.
Think about it, as little as 1 week ago, you were likely meeting with teammates, alert to elevating concerns, but still not aware of scope and next. You were somewhere between level 1 and level 2 threat activation…hearing the tiger in the distance, alert but not alarmed (1) and (2), with the tiger on your block, setting off your heart rate, cortisol, shutting down your immune system and hindering your ability to both think, as well and digest.
What happens to our brain and nervous system when triggered and in crisis is important in learning what we can do to help with that. Being aware if you are in Level 1, 2 or 3 (green/yellow/red) can make all the difference in regulating your state of being, helping you show up as an adaptive rather than reactive leader. Where leadership is concerned, it’s where the rubber hits the road, and enables focus, purpose and a generative state of mind that will serve you in good times and bad.
I work with red/yellow/green as a practice with my clients to create freedom from the reactivity created by triggers, enabling centered, wise and adaptive actions. The first step is to bring awareness, and feel and experience (not just know) the difference between each. This may be challenging, as many of us are over-adapted and reside in Level 3, ‘red’ much of the time. Not only are we habituated to it, many believe that being in red equates to success. Neuroscience proves otherwise, having demonstrated how higher level functioning (learning, strategic thinking, empathy, humor, collaboration, compassion and more) are reliant on the part of our brain that shuts down when we are in ‘red.’ These are traits that are even more critical when leading in crisis, and, with a remote workforce.
Whereas level 1 makes us alert and level 2 = alert and a little alarmed, in level 3, our neurobiology fully hijacked, and with it, the capacity to think clearly, focus on what is essential, and access a larger perspective. We are reacting as both prey and the preyed upon, a maladaptive state that has real impacts on the immune system and can’t be sustained without some sort of a breakdown. It’s all very biological, and there is not a whole lot you can do without first becoming aware that you’re in Level 3, and taking actions to support a shift.
This isn’t about adding another layer of control, it’s about being present to your inner state. But here’s the thing. Many times we find ourselves in red (feeling anxious, shut down, contracted, and not being able to think straight) before we even realize we’re there. It’s only in hindsight that we look at the binging on news or overthinking worst scenarios that got us there. The good news is that we can learn to more regularly check in with ourselves, tune into the signals and notice when we’re approaching a saturation point before we get there, effectively breaking the spell and more able to lead from green.
I invite you to become sensitized to your saturation point, and, more importantly, recognize its trajectory before it overtakes you. You may notice feeling triggered by little things, being trapped in polarities of under-reacting and over reacting, or perhaps tightness and irritation in your body. It may show up as an endless loop of recalculating, even after you’ve gathered the information you need. Once you’ve noticed, you can do something radical and counter-intuitive, like shift gears entirely, go for a run, pet your dog, listen to music, pause and breathe, call a friend. Whatever helps you regain presence and gives some distance from challenges can generate lasting insights and a shift of perspective critical to your long-term success.
Be gentle with yourself and use this time to deepen your ability to shift and access the ever present resources you have within. This is the ultimate in self care and will serve you now and in the future. Good leadership is everything in crisis. We have a really important role to play to help people mentally and steer others towards adaptive actions. Our role in keeping everyone on the right path has enormous potential. And, as with everything, it starts with us.