Usable Insight – How to Teach Your Amygdala to Dance

When something upsetting happens to you it triggers a part of your emotional brain called your Amygdala.  And if you are really stressed out, your Amygdala will hijack your ability to think before you react.  One of the ways to foil an Amygdala Hijack is to teach your Amygdala how to dance.  An effective way to do that is to follow the Ten Steps below.  Doing so will help you literally and figuratively mentally walk your way from a “trigger happy” amydgala to your prefrontal cortex and that will make it easier to not react and to not do something you will regret.

This is also a process to teach your children so that they do not give into their impulses when they are upset. And as they say on airplanes with oxygen masks, if you’re upset, do this first with yourself.  With practice, the steps will become second nature and you will be the one keeping your cool while others around you are losing theirs.

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5 Responses to “Usable Insight – How to Teach Your Amygdala to Dance”

  1. Dave Pearson Says:

    Dr, Goulston,
    I own a manufacturers Representative sales agency and have enjoyed a great deal of success but
    have always felt I don’t listen enough. I make it my business to thoroughly learn my product lines and as a result I find myself talking too much and not listening enough. I feel like I’ve learned some
    valuable tips towards listening to my customers from your book ” discover the secret of getting thru to absolutely anyone” and I can hardly wait to try them. Thank You,

    Dave Pearson

  2. Abderrafie Says:

    I just wonder if 10 steps aren’t too much to follow for someone upset ! I was angry and when I read the post and found one had to write and answer 10 questions , this made me more angry!
    Let me be fair, some steps may be useful (1- 2 (somewhat) – 3 – 4 – 5 – 8 – 9 – 10).
    I prefer if all these could be grouped in 3 simple steps, like this technique (taught in the jail) :
    1- stop before you act, and think for a better alternative.
    2- stop again, and think for a better one.
    3- act now.

  3. Mark Says:

    I like your three step response.
    I’m going to give it a try.
    I hope others might try the 10 steps and report back, because an easily hijacked amygdala is tough to retrain and it might take “baby steps” to do it.

  4. Katie Says:

    This is a terrific approach! While I agree that 10 steps is bit much, people can choose the one that works best for them. Thanks for sharing these strategies.

  5. Tom Cox Says:

    Mark – Great detailed thinking, and I do love the ‘dance’ imagery. I also concur with Abderrafie — shorter and simpler is better, provided it’s not too simple. ;-)

    Then make it a mnemonic. I still remember how to do a pre-flight check on a small airplane because of the acronym CIGAR — Controls, Instruments, Gas, Altimeter, Radio.

    Of course, this is more than a checklist, it’s a new HABIT — much harder to form. And more rewarding.