I was watching my 11 year-old nephew play atom hockey (ice hockey to my friends outside of Canada) the other week and noticed on the back each of their jerseys is a big stop sign patch. At first, I thought it was just on my nephew’s team, but then noticed both teams had it on their jerseys, so then I asked my brother what it meant. He said it was to remind the players to stop themselves from making dangerous hits, or, more specifically, body checking from behind.
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?
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?