In my last post I wrote about how the Fight or Flight response can limit our potential, as it produces what is sometimes an ineffective mode of behavior.  It’s often more effective to initially Stand Upright in the face of the challenge.  Once assessed, you can decide what response the situation best warrants.

But how do we modify our initial Fight or Flight responses?  I like the following two variations of the same technique, which I’ve derived from my training as a stage and screen actor.

The Fight or Flight response stem from our autonomous nervous system.  This means that it happens naturally, and we cannot stop it completely.  However, once it happens, I’ve found that the best way to exit that primal response is by getting out of the head and into the body.

I call this technique the Rock Stomp.

I once was in a musical with an actor whose personal tendency was to be highly reactive and highly aggressive, and this really showed during her acting.  Unfortunately, Fight wasn’t appropriate for a particular role, for a wispy character who was much more passive and restrained than she, and she struggled to modify that autonomous response.

During challenging moments, she used her body in a particular way, as if  she was about to launch into the face of her scene partners!  So I suggested to her one night that she literally carry rocks in her pockets to reinforce her connection to gravity.

She found that the rocks not only prevented her from flying around (have you tried jumping around with rocks in your pockets? awkward), but that the physical restraint of more weight also helped her feel calm.  She was more grounded, and experienced less of a Fight response.  She was then able to gradually translate that calmness into her needed character actions.

A similar technique also worked for a friend I’ll call Mateo, who came to me with tremendous stage fright.  He had to give a presentation in front of 40 people, and this terrified him – he wanted to run and hide in the corner, which is no small feat for a 6-foot-5-inch man.  He was in full-scale Flight mode.

We didn’t have any rocks available, so we just stomped around an empty room for about 10 minutes like heavy cavemen.  STOMP, STOMP, STOMP!  His breath was fuller, and the people in the room knew he was there.  Stomping can help you feel more solid, more grounded, and more powerful.  Mateo then worked on remembering that feeling of power during his presentation.

I’m not suggesting you always carry a big bag of rocks with you in case of a confrontation, or that you literally stomp around the room during a presentation (in fact, please don’t).  Instead, we need to practice the sensation we want to remember, away from the stimuli prompting Fight or Flight.

So carve out 10 minutes a day over the next week.  Grab some rocks, or some dumbbells, or your kids (just kidding).  Practice standing still with the extra weight.  Feel the heaviness.  Where do you notice the extra weight?  In your feet?  Your shoulders?  Your hands, perhaps?

If you’re stomping, where do you notice the solidity?  Your breath?  Maybe your head feels different.  Mateo said his belly button felt big.  I’m not sure what that means, but it worked for him!

Like all stage techniques, the point is to experience a particular emotional response, and then carry that on stage (or into a board room, or to a presentation).  In this context, remembering the physical sensations we’ve practiced through Rock Stomp, we get out of our instinctive reactions and can then assess the situation.

If you felt the solidity in your hands, focus on your hands when your boss yells at you.  If your Stomp made your feet feel gigantic, try imagining size-25 feet if you feel nervous in front of a group presentation.

First, assess your instinctive Fight or Flight response.  Then practice Rock Stomp 10 minutes a day for a week.  I promise you that the next time you feel like fighting or flying away, you’ll be able to begin remembering the solid, heavy, alert sensation of having Rock Stomped, and you’ll then be able to do what is needed.