Can’t Fight or Flee? Learn How to Flow!

From the Harmony Habit Tip Archives (April 2011):

“When you can’t fight and you can’t flee,
you’ve got to learn how to flow.”

~ Dr. Robert Elliot



Since we don’t live in prehistoric times, the fight-flight mechanism Mother Nature gave each of us might be looked upon as a system that’s gone awry. We no longer fight off saber-tooth tigers or run for the hills to save our lives. In this day and age, however, our saber-tooth tigers might show up in the form of a traffic jam, an uncooperative coworker, or a disagreeable spouse. And since we’re civilized, and can’t fight these “tigers” or run from them, we often delay or inhibit our automatic response to stress. After all, we’d look pretty foolish if we turned to our colleague and said: “Put up your dukes!” or started running through the office shouting “I can’t take it anymore!” Yet this is really what our body wants to do when we’re in conflict!

thoughtsWe need to channel this tension to return to a flow state. If we don’t discharge this stress, we may find that after a long hard day at the office we’re driving home from work with our shoulders hunched up to our ears or arriving home feeling ready for a good fight! The first step towards changing behavior is to become aware of it. Once you’re aware of your reaction to conflict, you’ll be better able to choose a more effective response. Essentially, learning how to “flow” starts with becoming mindful.


This week’s practice:

See if you can become more aware of your internal signals that let you know you’re feeling stressed or triggered. For instance, when faced with a challenging situation, notice where you sequester tension in your body. Observe the thoughts and feelings you tend to have. (Hint: typically they’re negative and you can turn them around. It’s a choice!) Ask yourself: “What do I need?” Often, we get so caught up in the emotional aspect of conflict that we don’t realize that a need of ours has gone unmet. If you can identify what you need, and then learn to ask for what you want in a calm and clear manner, you will get back into your flow much sooner!


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