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Joe Weston
Power Within #4: How You Respond to Stressors

Our ongoing exploration of the internal powers for an Agent of Hope continues to reveal how to overcome confusion, anxiety, stasis, anger, or hopelessness. In each article, we have discussed the essential components that can, when practiced, allow us to step into our power: 1) The opportunity presented when we develop these internal powers comes with the realignment of thoughts words and actions with our highest core values. 2) This realignment allows us to nurture ourselves and cultivate internal balance and resilience. 3) We can maintain balance and clarity by keeping our nervous system regulated.

Power within #4 reminds us that you may not have control of the challenges you are confronted with, but how you respond to them is something you do control. When we tap into these internal powers, we can manage the volatile whirlwind around us. We can rise above the reactivity of our fight-flight-freeze instincts, recrafting our narratives to become more present and empowered. We can once again make choices for ourselves, embrace common sense and compassion, and use effective decision-making to respond to what we encounter.

The nervous system does its best to keep us safe. When the nervous system is in a regulated, balanced state, it will accurately assess the stressor and activate the appropriate response. A dysregulated nervous system, however, will make it more difficult to connect with what is happening at that moment; you end up judging and labeling the stressor (good/bad, right/wrong), placing an artificial veil around what you are perceiving, causing you to take distance from it. Because this transaction occurs in split seconds, you are not even aware it is happening. Even with people we consider friends, colleagues and family, we overlay unconscious beliefs, hurts or stories that obscure what is presently unfolding.

When you find yourself in a fight-flight-freeze response, you are more likely to cause harm to yourself or others, perpetuating patterns of separation and opposition. You are no longer in alignment with your highest core values, nor connected with the compassion and wisdom in your heart.

On the other hand, when you assess a situation or person based on facts, saying, for example, that “a bird is flying by,” as opposed to “what an ugly bird” you can experience people and situations with a fresh openness, free from the imposed mental constructs that separate, demonize and set up opposition. When you assess without judgment, you allow people and situations to be who and what they are without pressure, expectation, judgment, criticism, manipulation, or a need to defend. You are directly relating to the present moment without the reactive filters. This shift in perspective reawakens curiosity, compassion and possibilities of hope.

The practice: Recognizing and Naming

Interrupting the cycle of reactivity includes recognizing that, while the stressor may be real, it may not be as daunting, threatening, or adversarial as your first reaction may have led you to believe. Any anxiety or trauma response, though justified, should be treated with love and compassion. However, reactivity based on the past does not allow you to see a situation as it is.

This practice helps you remove yourself from judgment and labels while bringing you back into your heart with a stronger connection to the present moment:

  • Notice that you are in an agitated state of fight-flight-freeze
  • Use your practice of “feel feet on the ground, focus in your center and heart, take deep breaths” to bring yourself back to the present moment and connection with self, other and surroundings
  • Determine whether you are safe. If not, then do what you need to do to take care of yourself. If yes, then recognize that you are in a state of discomfort, not unsafe
  • Do an investigation to identify what caused you to perceive the stressor in a way that activated agitation. It could be a judgment, past trauma, or lumping people and situations into labels, beliefs and polarizing groups
  • Replace the judgment with assessment, sparking curiosity and compassion.
  • From this place, choose a new approach to the situation
Feet on the ground, Focus in my center, Take a deep breath

This practice can have important implications. By noticing how you respond to any stressful situation and then adjusting your words, thoughts and actions, you can build confidence and agency; external forces have less influence over the choices you make in life. You become sole creator of your story and your capacity increases to impact others in a beneficial way. This shift opens the possibility for infinite creative options and creates the space for hope.

— Joe




Amazon #1 bestseller in 14 categories, including Leadership Training, Business Conflict Resolution & Mediation, and Stress Reduction

Communities Change Fierce Civility

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