Why Are You Flipping Your Lid?
The answer lies here.
You’re flipping your lid because you’re designed to do exactly that. Each of us flips in response to different trigger situations. Learning to avoid flipping your lid, requires discovering those situations.
Our brains are primed to recall physically and psychologically threatening situations more so than pleasant ones.This survival mechanism helps us scan for, and quickly defend ourselves against, similar threats. Our defensive moves - fight, flight, freeze - get set off automatically as soon threat is in the air. These automatic responses are triggered by our less-evolved brain. That’s a good thing, because the most highly evolved part of our brain, the prefrontal cortex, takes longer to process information. It’s in charge of abstract thinking, planning, and self-control. These processes require more than a split second. It’s necessary, therefor, to “flip your lid”, aka your prefrontal cortex, so you can rapidly fight, take flight, or freeze in response to threatening situations.
Lid Flipping Solution
So far, we’ve described how the brain should, and does, react to threats. We also reviewed why the brain is primed to recall threatening situations. Many of which took place while we were children dependent upon adults for survival. Being physically or psychologically hurt by someone who’s supposed to protect us is threatening when we’re five. But the fight-flight-freeze reaction set off by these childhood memories, is no longer relevant or necessary when similar situations arise in adulthood. Yet we still respond based on our memories of threat. We became wired to do so way back when. The solution is to bypass that wiring, and to do so often enough to re-wire our brains so we respond differently.
Note to Leaders
The lid flip gets set off more readily when you’re leading under the following conditions, and who isn’t?
- Continuous stress
- Heightened stress
- Insufficient sleep and relaxation
- Flying across the country and/or around the world
Step 1 - Discover your body’s 1st responder to threat by recalling a situation where you felt threatened. What body sensations accompany the memory? Tight stomach? Throat closing up? Rapid heartbeat? Heat?
Cathryn freezes when facing potential conflict with authority figures. “I can’t find the words. My throat closes up.” As we explore these sensations, she discovers It’s how she felt when her father was demeaning, a signal that the threat of violence was present.
Step 2 - Name the emotions. Fear? Anxiety? Anger?
Step 3 – Notice when these body sensations and emotions come up in your current life.
Step 4 - Name the sensations and emotions.
Congratulations. You’ve re-engaged your prefrontal cortex in the process of “thinking” about your reactions. Now you can use your mind to respond differently.
Step 5 - Ride the emotions like a surfboard riding a wave. No emotion stays with us forever, especially when we don’t re-act to them. Notice how the emotion and body sensations change.
Step 6 - Re-evaluate the situation. See more of what’s happening through a less emotionally charged lens. (When facing threats, our perceptual field narrows, because it’s more important to see the slightest change in what’s threatening us than it is too hear the background music.) Is there a real threat to your physical or psychological well-being?
Step 7 - If not, take a few breaths. Your body and mind will continue to calm down.
Step 8 - Use your thinking brain, prefrontal cortex, to decide what actions you’ll take to address the situation, if indeed there’s a situation that needs addressing.
Watch Dan Siegel’s clever demonstration of how you and I flip our respective lids.