it’s not you, it’s me…me and my amygdala.

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So I rock up to my barista and order my large cap, and toast with a tiny bit of vegemite. The coffee here is perfect, the service outstanding, and as I glance at my watch, I don’t know whether to sigh or smirk about being on time for my meeting. I choose to sigh happily and move out of everyone’s way.

At about the 8-minute mark, hipster-suity-groover guy rocks up and orders his coffee and same toast as me. Yes, that’s right. You can see where this is going. My happy barista man calls my name – ‘Someone’s toast is ready!’ I turn to grab my things, move back toward the counter – and before Hipster-Suity Guy’s coffee is even ready, he casually reaches over AND GRABS MY TOAST. Seconds later – wait, I’m not finished shouting: SECONDS LATER, HE HAS HIS COFFEE, THEN HE’S GONE!!!!

To know me is to concede that on a good day, parts of my nature are loveable, but today you’re pretty sure how shit is going to go down. But what if I surprise you? That’s right: things have changed and we are now familiar with the Amygdala Impact.

No matter our individual, or even collective thoughts on how we’ve evolved, we can count on the amygdala to keep us in touch with our Inner Primitive. Or as I affectionately think of him: my Inner Cyberdyne Systems series T-800 Model 101 Amygdala Terminator. The T-800 Amygdala controls the fight or flight instinct, scanning the environment for risk and danger five times a second – that’s right, FIVE TIMES A SECOND – and [analysing it through the super-high tech, military-grade, optical-screen of death] generates cortisol and adrenalin as required. Saving our lives since the Dawn of Man, the amygdala is a compact yet superior survival system, responsible for getting us out of the way of woolly mammoths, errant (or malicious) spear throwers and alerting us to problems that might affect our remaining with the clan. (Because that used to be a Thing.)

Crucial to the continuation of the species, it is one of the strongest drivers in our physical makeup. It is instinct. It’s why we’re here today. And it has this habit of overriding everything.

Now, back to today. It’s February 2017, and waiting for hipster-suity-groover guy’s toast, I have to tell you I don’t see many woolly mammoths about. Unless I’m particularly careless or stupid, or (thanks Pauline) consume too much sugar, there is no immediate threat to my survival past morning tea. I live in a modern family and haven’t sufficiently upset them or any members of my extended family to the point where my position in the clan is at stake. Overall my chances of continuation are pretty good. So. Why? Why the tightness in the chest? What the rush of heat? Why am I ready to go White Crane on hipster-suite-groover guy?

While our pre-frontal cortex is taking all this in, taking it’s time at a rate of 300 million Thinking Bits per second (hmm. What just happened?), our T-800 Amygdala has sorted shit out in a mere 20 million Outraged Symbol Bits (&%$@#**!@#$ etc), and stands up and shouts,

  • THAT WAS MY BREAKFAST!
  • I AM STARVING!
  • AND LYN WILL BEAT ME TO THE MEETING!

New Bron is now equipped with means to have a go at muffling the T-800 Amygdala. She clamps a hand over the speaker system. Smiles for the lookers-on. ‘Nothing to see here’, her smile says. She hisses at the T-800 Amygdala to go into standby mode for a minute, and proceeds to consult the pre-frontal cortex, posing the T-800 Amygdala’s responses as questions, and looking for positive directions in which to re-think things:

  1. Yes. That was my breakfast. But perhaps hipster-suity-groover works for Medicins-Sans-Frontiers and he had to rush to the airport. You could have just saved lives!
  2. Your survival is not contingent on the turkish toast. You’ll probably make it to morning tea. Except you’ll end up with hipster-suity-groover’s toast, so…
  3. Look, I really don’t have an answer to this one, you’re incredibly childish, so…you’re on your own. (Ok, I deserve that one.)

The trick is to remember that you have to work pretty hard to overcome your amygdala’s response. With practise you can. Try it this way:

Identify and label your physical response. (Tightness in the chest, nausea; the name of any karate poses you assume.)

Trace these physical responses back to what you are thinking. (Injustice, starvation, going one-up at work.)

Now: involve your pre-frontal thinking man/woman by asking questions. And think in terms of the positive.

 

With thanks to Sandra Wood for making a difference.

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surviving work after two months leave

Two months leave. Do you know how hard it is to go back to the office after two months leave? Especially in this heat? After hanging out by the pool, hanging with my family, hanging with my dogs, cafe sprees, writing sprees, studying lots, being carefree lots, happy and…chill? Lots?

It sucks, frankly. It sucks.

The Train crowds – they’re sticky in February. And sometimes…well, let’s just say Rexona is the god you’d like everyone to worship. Then arrive at the office, for back-to-back meetings. Forming coherent sentences on an hourly basis. Saying stuff out loud. Remembering your name. The names of your staff. The names of people you need to network with. The floor you work on. Discovering all the to-dos you left that didn’t get to-done. Rekindling your affair with the MFD. And all the while hearing the siren-song of the 15 pubs in walking distance of your desk.

Your desk!

All a bit much, really. Obviously, a survival list is what’s in order. I’ve decided that the best way forward is:

Step 1

Stay away from your staff. Yes, they’re lovely and wonderful and I missed them and truly I only wrote about to-dos not getting to-done for hyperbolic effect – they did a sterling job and I’m doing one long happy dance on the inside. But they want to update you and ask how Broken Hill was and brief you and give you things you need to carry on with, and start to-doing things yourself and pick up where you left off. That’s rubbish. I mean it, stay away from them.

Step 2

Avoid your managers. They appear, sage-like, mage-like, kings of the orient, there at your desk, making you drink from poisoned chalices disguised as career incentives and super-project involvement and exciting opportunities and BLAH bl-BLAH bl-BLAH. Don’t be fooled. It’s bloody work, is all it is, and not the bloody work you bloody want to be bloody doing. And the work means you have to talk to people. And network. And negotiate. And put stuff down in black and white. You have to remember how to write in public service-speak. How to commit to things.

Don’t be lured by the offer of coffee! Avoid your managers! Avoid them like the plague!

Step 3

Ok, sure, I’ll talk about that all-staff forum. With the new guy. Bringing us together. Getting collaboration out of 268 people. That was inspired. Don’t roll your eyes, because you know it was. He reminded you about the ‘why’; the why you’re doing all these things. Not just your day-job – although he reminded you that it is a worthwhile thing, and you’re there for a reason, and you REALLY LIKE THE REASON. And not only do you like The Reason, but he reminded you that The Reason is linked to all your personal goals, too, and essentially makes them all possible. So…sigh. Maybe, grudgingly, you could roll your eyes a little and quietly and incoherently mumble that ‘It might be ok being back at work.’

Sigh.

Step 4

Stay AWAY from the pubs. Stay. Awa-

What the hell…maybe just one.

Building Good Momentum For Doing Important Stuff

How dogs meditate

I don’t like routine. I’ve sometimes liked the sound of it, but generally: ew. Not for me. I reluctantly admit that routines are valuable. And looking at my 2017 calendar, I’ve reluctantly decided I should research what they’re all about. And reluctantly I accept that maybe if I’d had a routine a lot earlier, or even yesterday, I might reluctantly concede that yes, ‘they’re great’ and when I concede this, I will try and do it without rolling my eyes or using a mocking falsetto when I say it.

I turned to google in my hour of reluctant searching for routine answers (ha! see what I did there) and it turns out there are a lot of people out there who want me to help myself when it comes to following a routine because, they say, routines are crazy-super. And with slightly less reluctance than when I set out, I begin to realise, hey, some of these tips are really good ideas, and wait, I could probably do that one and before I knew it – !

Here is my new routine. I have selected what I think are the best parts from a number of well-thought out lists of routine things you can do each day. I identified the area of my day where I need the most help: getting out of bed in the morning. Then I picked what is realistic for me. I have ended up structuring my new routine around building good momentum for doing important stuff during the rest of my day. Wait, that sounds really good and caps-worthy, so let’s try it again:

Building Good Momentum For Doing Important Stuff During The Rest Of My Day.

  1. Sleep well.
    Yeh, sure! Right. Add Ironic Tick to that one. Recent heat, recent late nights of tennis, recent interest in Black Mirror, had a coffee too close to bedtime? A good night’s sleep is a myth in my house. I have so many bad habits that I have to change, according to the experts. These experts say that without a solid refreshing seven hours sleep and giving yourself every opportunity to wake up a happy person (wtf, there are happy morning people?), don’t worry about anything else on your list. (They were serious!) So stop right here if you didn’t sleep well and try again tomorrow.
  2. Meditate.
    Spend a couple of minutes, or 10, or 15 on calming your mind. Meditate as your yogi would have you meditate. Meditate on all you are grateful for. Meditate on the quietness around you. (I’ll give you a tip. Don’t slide down the side of your bed (because you’re not yet ready to stand up and walk anywhere) and lean with your back to it, positioning yourself where your dog (who yes, sleeps on our bed) can lean over your shoulder to see what you are doing up so early in the morning and then sneezes all over your neck. 5.30am-inspired invective is not good for his karma.) Dry, and relocated in a peaceful, quiet position, clear your mind, regulate your breathing and focus on calmness. Comes back to you in spades later in the day when you are trying to digest things like current world ‘politics’, or the person next to you on the train keeps sniffing. Calm.
  3. Do something physical.
    Walk the dogs, do some gardening, turn on the vacuum (5.30am, why not? This is not a popularity contest). If, in the early days of establishing your routine, you are only able to manage the making of sandwiches (gourmet, of course), hanging out a load of washing, or filling up the dogs’ water bowls in the morning, then so be it. It’s good to be moving around and forming the habit of being conscious and upright so early in the morning is more important.
  4. Drink a bottle (500mL) of water before you leave the house.
    If you can. That’s one down for the day and you will keep reaching for it.
  5. Jump in the pool or take a cold shower.
    This one will be interesting come Winter, but the thing with a cold shower is that your heart rate jumps and the brain cells switch into high gear: it is now highly motivated into crystallising ideas for making it stop. Stay in there and harness that idea power surge. Also good for increasing willpower and self-discipline. (You’re welcome. I had to look these up, too.)
  6. Read something inspiring or uplifting.
    Take 5 or 10 minutes to read something inspiring or uplifting. If it’s a quote, write in in your diary, write it on your phone, write it on your arm. But take it with you everywhere and re-visit it whenever you can. At the moment my go-to is Marcus Aurelius. A quote that has worked really well for me my first week back at work, where I have been bombarded, ambushed and mauled (of course I never exaggerate) was visualising being the sailor that finds a calm harbour after letting go of people’s necks all judgements. Book Twelve, check it out.
  7. Review your goals.
    Review your goals daily. Why do you want to get out of bed? Oh yeh! My goals! That’s right. Write your goals down. After you’ve cleaned off the dog sneeze, found a way to thank the universe for your dog, hung out the washing, frozen the nucleus of all your cells and read some Marcus-like stuff – have a drink of water while you re-connect every day with your list of goals. Stay on track.

Be calm. Be the sailor. Stay connected. Build your momentum.