August 5, 2011
What else are those of us with a hyperactive amygdala supposed to do to live in less fear? One technique neuropsychologist Rick Hansen talks about is distinguishing between real and paper tigers—ie stopping to assess whether you’re reacting to a real threat. I like the technique Alan Bean who I first wrote about in The Power of Patience used. Bean was an astronaut who had previously been a test pilot. Test pilots are trained to ask one question when something goes wrong in the air: “Is this thing still flying?” It’s a way of helping the pilot mentally evaluate how serious a problem so he or she can calmly come up with a solution rather than panicking.
Bean’s training came in mighty handy when he was in the Apollo 12 capsule. As the spaceship took off, it was struck by lightning. Suddenly every warning light on the instrument panel flashed. Help! said Bean’s amygdala, we’re going to die. Then he remembered the question. Looking out the little porthole above his head, he realized that not only was the spacecraft still flying, but it was still pointed upward. So rather than aborting the mission, he dealt with each warning light one by one until all functions were restored. And yes, he made it to the moon.
The next time your amygdala goes off, try stopping and asking, “Is this thing still flying?” In other words, is this truly a life or death situation? Almost certainly, it’s not. Recognizing that truth will help your amygdala calm down so you can use the rest of your brain to solve the problem