Posts tagged with ‘fight or flight’

07 mar

Your “Half-Empty” Perspective Is Killing You

JayForteAttitude – it defines us. I remember working with a colleague who was chronically pessimistic. Whatever was said, he always found the negative. If it were a nice day, he would comment how bad weather was due. If we had success in the workplace, it was a matter of time before something failed. I chose to see the glass half full; he chose to see the glass half empty. I focused on gain, success, optimism and possibility; he focused on loss, failure, pessimism and shortage. He was a chronic downer; a vortex of negative energy. He was, however, a life lesson.

I wasn’t always optimistic. My background, like for many, taught me life was difficult; good will always be offset by bad – as if there were some required life balance of pain and pleasure. It was this colleague, however, who introduced me to seeing the negative and positive attributes in our responses, and noticing how they made me feel. His perspective reminded me of how brief life is and by focusing on the negative instead of the positive was a waste of time.

This started my interest in researching the impact of a positive attitude not only on a person’s success but on his physical and metal wellbeing. Dr. Esther Sternberg’s states in her book, The Balance Within, The Science Connecting Health and Emotions, “Perhaps if we could relearn a new set of associations, turn negative into positive, we could in some sense consciously control our health.” She continues, “The more optimistic the person, the less an event was perceived as stressful, the more robust were their immune-cell responses.” There is a direct correlation between positive emotions and a strong immune system.

This is further explained in Dr. Robert Sapolsky’s book, Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers. He presents when we are in periods of calm, our body’s systems work as they should – the heart slows allowing normal blood flow to all of the routine life systems – digestive, circulatory, excretory, reproductive. We maintain our bodies internally – we stay healthy.

However, when we encounter an event (including an emotion) that activates our fight-or-flight mechanism, different biological functions respond. Blood is called from the maintenance systems and is now directed to organs that will increase our ability to survive (blood vessels are constricted raising the speed and force of the heart’s contraction, widening air passages to the lungs, dilating the pupils for increased perception, releasing glucose into the blood for quick energy, and shifting blood from the intestinal tract to the heart and muscles – paraphrased from How We Live by Sherwin Nuland). This reaction suppresses our immune system; if sustained, this impacts our health.

It is important to note is that a negative attitude can activate the fight-or-flight response. So the office downer, the family curmudgeon, or the negative energy friend – those who are constantly focused on the “half-empty” perspective – live in a perpetual state of fight or flight. This activates the fight-or-flight systems and suppresses the immune system. Being a cynic, grump or pessimist is bad for your health.

This ties in directly with Ariane de Bonvoisin’s first principle of successfully handling change, “People who successfully navigate change have positive beliefs.” This positivity activates your health, your greater thinking and stronger positive emotions. Positivity and optimism actually create a healthier life.

Positive beliefs come from you – you may not be able to control the things that happen to you but you can control how you respond to them. You can choose to see “half-full” – upbeat, optimistic and confident – or “half-empty” – down, pessimistic and unsure.

Consider these ways to build a more positive perspective:

  1. Notice when you become negative and immediately focus on something positive. Have others help you see your behavior.
  2. Read a power quote or an inspirational passage to start your day on a positive tone.
  3. Create an upbeat “break” during the day. Focus on 3 things that have gone well. Celebrate them. I like to use a “what went well today” list.
  4. Choose your friends wisely; associate with positive and confident people.

To make the point, here are some great half-empty/half-full perspectives from the website

  • The project manager/engineer says the glass is twice as big as it needs to be.
  • The bar fly says is not about whether the glass is half full or half empty, it’s about who is paying for the next round.
  • The consultant says let’s examine the question, prepare a strategy for an answer, and all for a daily rate of…
  • The worrier frets that the remaining half will evaporate by tomorrow.
  • The fanatic thinks the glass is completely full, even though it isn’t.
  • The entrepreneur sees the glass as undervalued by half its potential.
  • The computer specialist says that next year the glass capacity will double and will cost half the price.
  • The Buddhist says don’t worry, remember the glass is already broken.
  • The personal coach knows that the glass goes from full to empty depending on the circumstances, and reminds the drinker that he can always fill the glass when he wishes.
  • The grammarian says that while the terms half-full and half-empty are colloquially acceptable the glass can technically be neither since both full and empty are absolute states and therefore are incapable of being halved or modified in any way.

You control your attitude. Know yourself; choose to be positive and upbeat. It is great for your happiness and your health.

Jay Forte is a motivational speaker and performance consultant. He is the author of Fire Up! Your Employees and Smoke Your Competition, The Hunt for Opportunities Success Manual and the on-line resource, Stand Out and Get Hired. He is working on his new book, Work Strong, Live Stronger. He works to connect people to their talents and passions to live fired up! More information at

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Posted by Jay Forte on March 7th, 2010 in Ariane, Career, Family, General, Health, Personal Stories, Things We Love | 1 comment Read related posts in , , , , , , ,

30 nov

There Are Gremlins in My Gym Bag

I don’t know what goes on in my gym bag at night – there must be gremlins. When I finish my workout, I neatly roll my earbuds around my iPod and put it back in my bag. When I take it out each morning, the earbud cord is tied in knots, the hair gel container is open and I have only one white sock – grrr!

Here’s the issue. Day in and day out little nuisance things happen to us – little things – you stumble, drop some papers, take a wrong turn, lose your cellphone connection – gremlin things – nuisance things. But for many people, these are “melt down” events. In our busy and over-scheduled lives, little events become big events. And when already frazzled, a truly large event now becomes completely unmanageable.

My family has the “klutz” gene. I inherited it from my mother—she doesn’t think she has it but I see it in action all the time—and have passed it successfully to one of my three kids. We get “gremlin” events all day:

- The cover will stay on others’ Starbucks cups – not ours.

- We’ll guess on one exit on the highway over another and choose the wrong one and need to turn around.

- We’ll reach for the ketchup on the table of a restaurant and knock our silverware on the ground, or get our sleeves in the salad dressing.

I am not looking for sympathy (this may be why we don’t get invited to dinner very often). Rather, it reminds me are human and sometimes just say the wrong thing, knock something over, show up late… But if we get upset by these events, they can actually negatively impact our health.

In 2004 Dr. Robert Sapolsky published a book titled, Why Zebra’s Don’t Get Ulcers. In it, he presents that animals and humans are equipped to handle both calm and danger. The parasympathetic system runs all of the routine internal body systems, day in and day out (periods of calm). The sympathetic system is designed to help us survive in a period of danger, stress or euphoria, and interrupts the parasympathetic system.

I am not a scientist, so here is my simple summary of his findings. When we are calm (we are not affected by the “gremlin” or stress events), our internal maintenance systems respond – the heart slows, allows normal blood flow to all of the routine life systems – digestive, circulatory, excretory, reproductive… life stuff. We maintain our bodies internally – we stay healthy.

But when we get upset (the brain senses danger -big or small), it activates a fight or flight response. Blood is called from the maintenance systems and is now directed to organs that will increase our ability to survive (blood vessels are constricted raising the speed and force of the heart’s contraction, widening air passages to the lungs, dilating the pupils for increased perception, releasing glucose into the blood for quick energy, and shifting blood from the intestinal tract to the heart and muscles – paraphrased from How We Live by Sherwin Nuland). We are now ready for a fight or a flight.

Here is the point. The body is designed to handle a temporary fight or flight response. Animals know this. And according to Sapolsky, when the lion gets his prey, or the zebra gets away, the fight or flight response ends and the body resumes its normal response. But humans are different. When we experience recurring gremlin events, we move our systems into a state of perpetual stress; we constantly signal to our bodies to be ready to fight or hit the road. And when this happens, the regular, healthy and maintenance functions of the body are interrupted. The result: ulcers, cancer, diabetes and other illnesses.

How we perceive events activates emotions; emotions activate neurological and biological responses in our body. We must train ourselves to manage our emotional responses to all types of events – to know what is danger and what is only a nuisance – to stay healthy and sane. The body is not designed to live in a heightened and perpetual state of fight or flight.

So when gremlin events happen, my kids and I are getting better at shrugging and saying, “I am playing my humanity card. We laugh and move on. Maybe we are good at this because we get so much practice. But we have learned that gremlins in the gym bag, or wrong turns, or spilled coffee is nothing to lose one’s cool about. Not only do we know it is part of being human and will likely happen again, but it also negatively affects our health. We’ll save the big response for legitimate major stress or danger.

Life throws out small tests to get us ready for larger ones. Manage your responses and use fight or flight only when it is needed – the body was designed that way. Learn from the Zebras – they don’t get ulcers. They don’t let the little stuff – the gremlins – get them down. That way, when they need to run, they are really ready – and they survive. And at every other point, they are loving life.

Posted by Jay Forte on November 30th, 2009 in Family, General, Health, New Directions | 1 comment Read related posts in , , , , ,