Mindful Mondays: What’s Your Saber Tooth Tiger? October 14 2013

sabretoothLet’s play caveman or cavewoman. You’re walking along, minding your own business, when all of the sudden you spy a saber tooth tiger lurking around the next big rock. At that moment, the part of your brain called the amygdala activates your fight or flight response. Adrenalin and other neurochemicals and hormones surge through your body as you make split second decisions about standing your ground or getting out of there as fast as you possibly can.

That kind of response is very helpful when a saber tooth tiger appears in front of you. It helps keep you alive. As I wrote about earlier this year, however, it’s less useful when you’re facing stressful but less life threatening stimuli in modern day life. The same fight or flight response that can save your life in an actual emergency can leave you feeling angry, frustrated, depleted and overwhelmed if it gets stuck in the on position. Your decision making and leadership effectiveness suffer as a result.

One way to avoid that is to understand what your saber tooth tigers are. What I mean by that is understanding and recognizing the things that typically set you off. If you know the kinds of situations or conversations that send you into fight or flight mode, you can take steps to mindfully lessen their impact.

By recognizing and naming your triggers (or tigers), you can proactively prepare yourself to productively deal with them. Proactive preparation could look like a lot of things. Putting the situation into perspective, investigating alternatives or pushing your reset button by taking some deep breaths or a walk are all examples of things you can do to stay productive when you’re triggered.

The key, though, is to know your triggers. When one of those tigers presents itself, that can be your cue to prepare yourself to stay productive.

What are your saber tooth tigers? What are the typical kinds of situations or conversations that trigger your fight or flight response? Name them and claim them!

2 Responses to “Mindful Mondays: What’s Your Saber Tooth Tiger?”

  1. Tom Schuler says:

    My biggest challenge (and when I'm most successful) is when I'm able to take a step back in that particular moment. I smack that tiger in the nose, take a deep breath and start looking for solutions!

  2. Scott, nice piece, particularly the metaphor of Saber Tooth Tiger. That is more compelling than the words "trigger" or "cue." Two things I would add: (1) It's helpful to know exactly what we do when we are set off–words, body movements, and postural changes. These are the things we actually recognize that suggest the Tiger has arrived. (2) I find the Enneagram to provide a potent map of a core set of patterned responses to the Tiger. Thanks again for the good post!

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