Upon some further investigation, I discovered that the stop sign patches come from the organization S.T.O.P, which stands for Safety Towards Other Player (STOP) program. So why do these kids need to be reminded when they know that they’re not even permitted to hit at this level? Daniel Goleman, the author of the 1996 book Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, describes it as the Amygdala Hijack.
The Amygdala Hijack is when you encounter a situation as a threat (i.e., your opponent is about to score or, even, has the puck), and your emotional brain (think: fight or flight) hijacks your rational brain. Unfortunately, this hijacking often results in irrational, ineffective, and, in some cases, destructive behavior. It’s only after these reactions that the rational brain catches up and helps us realize that our reaction was inappropriate.
Let’s go back to the hockey cross checking example: What’s the point of the stop sign patch? The patch actually can serve to help us control the amygdala and allow the rational brain to catch up and act first. It acts as a trigger to make us stop and think, “Hmm, what’s that sign all about?” and then, ultimately, allows the rational brain to think and respond before the emotional brain has a chance to react. It’s akin to the string tied around our finger to help us remember something.
Is this just useful for kids playing hockey? Absolutely not. We have all faced situations where we reacted and reflected on the situation after the fact saying to ourselves, “What the heck was I thinking?” (the reality being that most of us aren’t thinking…at least with the rational brain). Worse, most of us have had this occur within a professional environments. So what can we do?
- Create A Trigger – Whether it be the image of a stop sign, a hand making a stop motion, the string around your finger or something of your mind’s own creation, think about what you could use that will act as your own trigger to make you stop and let the rational side catch up. Once you have this image either in your head or physically posted somewhere, whenever you find yourself going the way of the amygdala hijack, focus on that image and it will trigger your memory to stall the amygdala and let the rational side catch up.
- Restate or Ask Questions – If you find yourself in a heated discussion with someone (colleague, boss, staff member, etc.), another way you can let the rational brain catch up is to ask questions or attempt to restate what their issues are in an objective manner. Something as simple as “Can you tell me more? Could you give me an example?” can actually act as a trigger on its own to stop yourself from kicking it into high gear flight mode. As well, restating what they’re saying, such as “What I’m hearing from you is that you feel I let the team down when I missed this deadline” also gives your brain catch up time. Bonus: asking these questions and restating what you’re hearing from what they’re saying can actually provide the opportunity to clarify miscommunication and misunderstandings or lead to better understanding of the other party’s viewpoint. This can actually result in you no longer viewing the situation as a threat and, as a result, the fight or flight mode ceases to exist.
- S.T.O.P. – Continuing on with the stop theme, one mindfulness practice that can help slow down the emotional brain is another S.T.O.P acronym:
S – Stop what you’re doing.
T – Take a breath or two. We’re talking really good, deep breaths. The kind that take a few seconds to inhale and a few seconds to exhale.
O – Observe your thoughts, feelings, and emotions about the situation at hand. What’s actually happening? Bring it to the conscious level.
P – Proceed. Determine what you need to do in order to support you during this time. This might include taking a quick break, getting some fresh air, drinking a cup of tea, or visiting a website that puts a smile on your face and gives you perspective.
What else have you found to help you take back your brain?