Everybody experiences times when our brain simply locks up. Usually this happens at the most crucial times. You are set to give that important presentation and all of a sudden you can’t remember any of your points. During a job interview you fumble the easiest questions. Instead of making a good impression with a possible date, you mumble something stupid. You’ve studied for the exam and your mind goes blank when you read the first question.
Normally you solve problems by engaging your thinking. But what can you do when your best problem solving tool is not working?
What brain lock really is
Let’s take a look at what happens when your brain locks up. You are feeling a strong emotion. It might be fear, anxiety, embarrassment, shame, or anger. These strong emotions hijack your brain and you are unable to access your higher brain functions – your rational thinking. So, thinking your way out of the situation is impossible.
Since limiting emotions have taken over your brain, you have no way of accessing your true emotional states. These might include confidence, excitement, or calm. So, you can’t look to your emotions to help you out.
Your other option: your body
When your emotions take over and your brain locks up, your body responds. According to Deepak Chopra our body reacts to fear with a tight stomach, blood rushing from our head, tense muscles, feeling faint or dizzy, and a tightness in the chest. Our body reacts to shame with a warm feeling, flushed cheeks, a sense of numbness that feels cold and empty inside, feeling small and wanting to disappear. These examples are from: Reinventing the Body, Resurrecting the Soul: How to Create a New You by Deepak Chopra (2009).
You can test this out for yourself. Remember a time when an uncomfortable emotion caused you a problem. What were you experiencing in your body? In particular, notice your breathing. Was your breathing shallow, ragged or were you holding your breath?
Now, remember a time when you felt confident and resourceful. Notice what was happening in your body. How was your breathing? Was it deep, smooth and regular?
Your breathing is one body function that you can access consciously. You can change your breathing. The easiest way to get out of brain-lock is to reset your breathing.
Here’s the fix …
How do you reset your breathing? Easy. Blow out just like you were blowing out a candle. Then take a deep breath through your nose. Do this at least three times. That’s it!
… and here’s why it works
Why does this work? When you are feeling a strong limiting emotion your normal breathing rhythm gets disrupted. You are getting less oxygen. When you blow out your lungs empty and your body’s natural response is to take a deep breath. You can’t stop it. As you breath in, consciously make sure it is a deep breath. By the time you have taken three deep breaths, the cycle is usually broken. When your breathing calms down, your emotions calm down and your brain turns back on. This is a lot like pressing the reset button on your brain.
Try it before you need it
For best results, be sure to practice the brain-lock fix before you need it. It only takes a few seconds.
You can even use this technique to prevent brain-lock. Before an important meeting or a test, use the brain-lock fix. Presenters and trainers often suggest taking several deep breaths before speaking. Calm breathing makes all the difference.
(Image: music2work2 @ Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/14511253@N04/4411497087/)