©2007 Andrew Mark (istockphoto)

Are you dreading going to work? Are you finding that you hit the snooze button more and more frequently during the week? Does it feel like you’re entering a dark, foreboding place every time you set foot at the workplace? Is it fraught with unseen dangers?

Whether you are a senior leader or climbing your career ladder, if you are in the wrong work environment, you will feel like you’re experiencing this situation on a daily basis. If you’re an attorney, an executive, or responsible for launching a new product to market, if you don’t have support to help you reach your peak performance, you will feel like you are constantly at risk.

It is time to face the truth. YOU are in danger. The latest neuroscience research can now validate that there’s a part of your brain that’s activating the danger alarms. It has been called the mammalian brain, the ancestral brain, or the instinctive brain. It is really your amygdala. Yes, it’s a hard word to pronounce and harder to understand because when it’s engaged, all your logic, creativity, and problem-solving abilities shut down. You are in survival mode. The amygdala located within our midbrain triggers the ‘fight or flight’ response when you perceive danger. This instinctive process slows down our rational and creative thinking patterns. When you’re in ‘fight or flight’ mode, logical reasoning goes out the window. What are you left with? Your fear. This fear triggers anger, which ensues in attack posturing or escapism.

What is even more common in our society is what I call the “freeze.” When you want to initiate a change, or when your immediate manager wants you to “stretch outside your comfort zone,” the amygdala is triggered, or your natural alarm system is activated stopping you right in your tracks. You become immobilized and nothing gets done, no stretches, no professional or self-improvement. Why does this happen?

One of the main reasons it is so difficult to change your current situation is that it is much safer and more comfortable to stay in your current patterns. So even if you’re restless or (miserable), that experience itself becomes your comfort zone and it is difficult to change.


Let’s look at a wild animal and its amygdala. It’s so simple for them. Animals are natural masters of shifting from fight to flight with ease. When have you ever observed a lion that was conflicted, stuck in gears between fight and flight?

How about human beings? Have you heard that your mind is your own worst enemy? The reason is that we evolved to handle all kinds of strife. However, when was the last time you faced the danger of a saber-toothed tiger on the road or in the hallway at work?

Let’s face it; sometimes going to the workplace is shifting you out of your comfort zone. Are you the only one with this experience?

If you look around the world, you will observe that most people are run by their amygdala. It’s evident in the conference rooms when different groups vie for territory or meeting their agendas, above all else. Cross-functional teams seem to travel to different destinations while tasked with one major outcome. Project managers in all industries face this phenomenon constantly.

So, if your amygdala is triggering and so is everyone else’s, how can you accomplish anything? You’re right. It’s not simple, but easy once you start becoming aware of what’s really going on.

So what does this all mean? All of us have built mental structures that frame how we perceive the world and ourselves. In order to change, we need to break down these structures and reformat our hard drives (our minds).

First, things first, in the book, the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey advises to “Begin with the end in mind.”  However, I recommend that you actually start with yourself and your amygdala. Everyone is hard-wired differently based on genetics and adaptive conditioning as we experience more and more of what life has to offer.

So, first begin with acknowledging that your amygdala is a very powerful tool. Just like the military with a very sophisticated defense system, your amygdala is your personal security system. However, the only way it knows how to keep you safe is to keep you within your comfort zone. Any time you venture or step foot out of this defined boundary of comfort, your amygdala is activated. When the amygdala alarms go off, you can experience a range of mild to severe symptoms. Let’s review what we’re really talking about when this happens.

Symptoms of Amygdala Activation:

  1. Procrastination
  2. Self-Doubt
  3. Worry
  4. Over-doing to over-compensate
  5. Workaholic mode
  6. Feeling Stuck
  7. Poor self-confidence
  8. Beating Yourself Up
  9. Resistance of any kind
  10. Losing Momentum
  11. Lackluster view of your situation
  12. Sad, maybe depressed
  13. Caustic or cynical
  14. General feeling of misery (remember misery is relative)
  15. Symptoms of Stress, including Anxiety and Dread, may lead to panic or severe fear response, if unchecked.

If you have been experiencing any of these sensations, your amygdala is trying to talk back to you. You are in danger of leaving your comfort zone. Remember, everyone has different levels of tolerance to risk. For some, paragliding, skydiving, starting new companies, mountain climbing, traveling and backpacking to third world countries is all within the parameters of their comfort zones. For others, trying exotic foods, starting a new position, scuba diving, or riding a hot air balloon all trigger the amygdala.

The very next action step when you experience any symptoms of amygdala activation is:


©2008 Sergejs Nescereckis (istockphoto)

If you adopt the metaphor that your life is one long movie, then as you’re watching it, hit the pause button for an unscheduled break. At this point, you have stopped everything.

Tips To Hit the Pause Button

  1. Stop whatever you are doing, and take a deep breath.
  2. If you concentrate on your breathing, that will naturally slow you down.

Once you have paused, your amygdala will stop escalating to higher alarm levels. The next step will be to calm your amygdala down.

To Illustrate Amygdala overdrive, let me share what happened yesterday evening. A comedy of errors occurred when I unknowingly posted the draft version of this article and then couldn’t log in immediately to fix it. After 15 attempts with new passwords, I was able to log in and delete the draft post. What do you suppose MY amygdala was doing? On a scale of 1-10, it was escalating towards the 10! If you are a Feroce blog subscriber, you received a sneak preview this morning.

Remember, it is not YOU; it is just your amygdala!

Stay tuned to the next installment in this series to discover Tips to Calm Down Your Amygdala.

For immediate relief, contact The Success Coach, Wanda.

For more tools, sign up for this blog to get tips immediately sent to your email inbox hot off the press.

Posted by Wanda Ropa, The Success Coach.

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