Decision Making in Times of Stress: Dealing with your Dinosaur Brain

July 14, 2021

The old paradigm of risk management is based on fear and avoidance of risk. In the new paradigm of risk management that I have pioneered, we begin with the belief that the universe is a friendly place, and full of love. In this understanding of the universe, there is no risk, there is only our thinking about risk.

Keeping our business safe is not about avoiding risk, it requires learning to think about our uncertainties, problems and dangers from a calm place. The new paradigm of risk management is all about unpacking our worries, our should dos, our what ifs, and looking at them from a space of calm curiosity. This allows us to really get to grips with what they are trying to teach us – what their message is for our growth. It also allows us to sort out the uncertainties or dangers that have real world implications and require action, from those that are upper-level limiting beliefs and blocks that just need to be blessed and let go.

In this blog, I look at some of the scientific reasoning behind my new paradigm of risk management.

What is a dinosaur brain?

To understand the following discussion in more detail, look up Dan Siegel’s Brain / Hand model. It’s fascinating!

Hold your hand up and imagine your forearm is your brain stem.

Your thumb represents your dinosaur brain – the amygdala – your limbic brain system – your primitive brain. This is your what controls your fight / flight / freeze response. It is where all of your big emotions originate – your anger, your anxiety, your fear.

Wrap the rest of your fingers over your thumb. This represents your pre-frontal cortexyour wise leader brain – the brain that can access wisdom, intuition, your values and vision and connects you to the whole stream of universal consciousness that supports you in making decisions for the highest good of all.

So what does this tell us about risk management?

When you are facing perceived risks, worries and fears, you have a choice – you can deal with them using your “wise leader” brain – your conscious, thinking, connected brain – or you can suppress them, ignore them, and shove them down into your subconscious.

When you make a habit of doing this, those uncertainties, worries and fears can build up to the point where your subconscious can’t bear the pressure any more – so it tries to rescue you from them. The only problem is, your subconscious’ idea of rescue is going to be fight, flight or freeze. It is going to scream at you that you are not safe and try to get you out of the situation in whatever way it can (and far too often, this looks like sabotage to your conscious brain).

The other alternative is that you end up ignoring a real world danger that actually needs you to take urgent action, until the thing you are scared of actually goes wrong. When it does, it is more than likely that it will trigger you into a panic reaction.

When you are triggered, that is when you “flip your lid” (if you are still playing along with the hand model, raise your fingers to reveal your thumb.) When you are triggered, you go out of your window of tolerance and into a traumatised state.

Your window of tolerance is the state of mind where you can make calm, conscious, pro-active decisions.

Above this window, you have a state of hyper-arousal. That is when you go into meltdown, throw a tantrum, scream, cry, fight, or yell. You are not thinking, you are just REACTING.

Underneath the window of tolerance, you have a state of hypo-arousal. That is where you freeze, where you shut down, deer in the headlights, shrink into yourself, curl up smaller and smaller, hide and hope it all just goes away. You cannot act.

It all comes back to decision-making

If you don’t address your perceived risks from that calm, conscious zone of deliberation – your window of tolerance – you end up flipping your lid, and your limbic system (your subconscious) ends up making the decisions for you.

The kinds of decisions your subconscious makes are based on the information, opinions and emotions programmed by your early childhood experiences – this is really not the best brain to be making high level decisions for your business.

Your subconscious cannot tell the difference between imagination and reality – it reacts to your anxiety. As a result, it needs to know that you have GOT THIS! Your business will not thrive if your subconscious is constantly in protective mode, because it will constantly be trying to keep your business small to limit your exposure to danger. As a result, you will not be able to promote it to its full potential – you will find yourself constantly procrastinating, missing opportunities, failing to follow up on leads, all because your subconscious programming is running the show.

You need to be using your wise leader brain when you are setting up your systems and processes and putting in place the protections that your limbic brain needs to feel safe so that it is not so easily triggered. If you can create that sense of security, when perceived risks arise, your pre-frontal cortex can stay engaged, can see the opportunity involved, instead of immediately flipping into the triggered state that sees everything as a threat.

One little trick that works to help you stay in the pre-frontal cortex zone, not getting triggered when anxiety starts to arise, is to do something totally illogical and playful and joyful to help shift your responses back into your zone of tolerance.

How I can help

In Castle Quest – The Serenity Shift, I have taken this understanding of decision-making, combined it with traditional corporate principles of good governance and risk management, added a big dose of gamification, fun and metaphor, and created a program that is both practical and magical. If you struggle to feel safe in your business, or believe in its long-term survivability, or maybe you just want to be a more confident decision-maker, Castle Quest may be just what you need.

Related Posts

April 25, 2024

July 5, 2023

March 3, 2023

August 23, 2021