REFLECTION: 41 years ago today (April 13, 1970), Jack Swigert, astronaut on the infamous Apollo 13 mission delivered this memorable phrase, “Houston, we’ve got a problem!”, after an oxygen tank burst on their way to the Moon. In fact, Swigert’s actual words were: “OK, Houston. Hey, we’ve got a problem here.” But over the years and through the magic of editing, the phrase has been shortened for dramatic effect.
Once the discovery was made, and the problem identified, the Apollo mission quickly shifted from one of exploration (a third lunar landing) to survival (getting the crew back to earth alive). Imagine, however, if the flight crew and ground crew had all stayed stuck in their fear. What would have been the likelihood of a positive outcome?
It’s been years since the event itself, and it’s been years since I last saw the movie, Apollo 13. However, it’s been nowhere near that long since I witnessed someone getting severely bent out of shape about a life altering event or circumstance – myself included.
Problems come and problems go. Some of them are Apollo dramatic and truly life threatening. Others are simply minor blips on the old Stress-O-Meter Radar. The challenge is one of sifting the serious challenges from the minor irritations.
That’s where a degree of thoughtfulness comes into play. The next time you face a ‘Houston, we’ve got a problem’ challenge, check to see whether you are responding from fear or thoughtfulness.
Knee jerk, fear based reactions hang out in the amygdala – also referred to as our primitive lizard brain. It’s that part of the brain that creates and stores emotional memory, senses danger, and triggers the mind and body to high alert. If we only operate from states of high anxiety, chances are good we’re not accessing the clearest thinking part of our brain.
It’s a pretty strong likelihood that Chicken Little, he of ‘the sky is falling’ fable, was largely governed by his lizard brain – racing around in circles, freely distributing fear and anxiety, to all he met.
Fortunately, although we might share Chicken Little’s panicky response to a life event, we don’t need to stay stuck in our first reaction – hijacked by the amygdala. We do need to shift our attention to the neocortex – the part of the brain that’s better known for it’s analytical and reasoning abilities.
ACTION: How then to leave the lizard behind and get a more thoughtful take on a challenging situation?
Try these actions:
– Name the fear at the center of your response. Take a closer look at its actual likelihood.
– Reach out to someone else whose point of view you respect to help you challenge your thinking.
– Tackle a first step – one small action or exploration in the direction of a solution. Let small wins propel you forward.
– Imagine a positive long-term outcome from the challenge at hand.
– Be thankful for all the other things that seem to be on track and have not gone sideways in your life.
A fresh perspective or two can go a long ways towards getting your feet back on solid ground.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “There is only one cause of unhappiness: the false beliefs you have in your head, beliefs so widespread, so commonly held, that it never occurs to you to question them.” – Anthony de Mello
RESOURCES OF THE WEEK:
Check out this online article: Five Steps To Managing Your Lizard Brain
I’m also remembering a children’s story book that was a favorite around our house on tough days: “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” by Judith Viorst. Young Alexander learns that some days are like that – even in Australia. A fun read for old and young alike.
READERS WRITE: In response to last week’s message on Overwork: An Artful Life Perspective, these Pause readers write:
CH : Great advice as usual Pat. We are all artists in our own way – creating our special place in the world.
NC: Thanks for this thought provoking PAUSE . As a recovering perfectionist I found these points particularly poignant. As someone once told me, apply the KISS principal: Keep It Simple Sweetheart!