If you’ve ever been to one of my workshops or executive meetings, you probably remember a demonstration I do to explain how and why emotions are contagious. If you haven’t, here’s a short explanation.
Our bodies are electric. Every organ in our body produces electricity. Most of the time we don’t think about it much. But when we feel pain in our chest, or go for a yearly “wellness” visit, an electro cardiogram (EKG) is taken to read the electrical patterns of our heart.
The electromagnetic field generated by your heart is the strongest and the most powerful in the body. It’s 5,000 times greater in strength than the field generated by your brain. It extends more than twelve feet out from the body and carries the vibration of emotions – positive or negative – on its waves.
If you’re in a good mood (or bad) your mood gets to the door just slightly before your entrance and announces your arrival.
Years ago I brought a childhood friend into my business for a short while. It was a mistake. It started well but as the incompatibilities began to mount, the air got thick and daily life with her became more and more uncomfortable.
At one point the negative vibes that emanated from her body were so strong that I could feel her coming a full minute or so before she blasted in the door. Every inch of her magnetic field carried her anger and discontent. Apparently the entrepreneurial life took her too far out of her comfort zone and the fear it caused morphed into an anger she was unwilling to discuss. I learned a lot in that relationship and its aftermath.
Our bodies and brains, lacking an upgrade in the “hard drive” the last several hundred thousand years are finely tuned to pick up the perception of danger and react to it. When we encounter the unfamiliar, our well honed survival system begins asking the most basic of questions, “Can I eat it or will it eat me?” Our physical body prepares to fight, flee or freeze or faint, depending on the situation.
Once in that “fight or flight” reaction our brain function narrows so we can see “what’s wrong” in the environment. Many of the systems – like our immune system – that are not essential to our survival in that moment shut down to conserve our energy so we will have the strength in our muscles to fight or get the heck out of there. It’s a helpful reaction to have when we are really in danger.
When we experience this reaction too often (and with today’s 24 hour bad news cycle we do) it puts stress on the body and keeps us in the “what’s wrong, bad or awful?” state that vibrates far out from our body spreading negativity to others.
Yes, emotions are contagious, and now’s the time to evaluate the quality of the emotions we are spreading. In the US, our culture itself is breeding a negativity so pervasive, so insidious and so dangerous that it’s critically important that we stop and evaluate what we are allowing to go on in our lives and in our businesses that may even in a small way contribute to it.
Each and every one of us contribute to the vibrations – positive or negative – in the world today. In the USA today paper last Friday, Mike LoPresti, a sports writer shared his outrage at how far our negative culture has become.
“On this horrific Friday, we went to an awful place even this blood-soaked society has never been. And what you wonder is how we ever find our way back. When enough will finally be enough, or if we are too far gone to know.
It was all there again; senseless carnage in a culture that lives and dies with violence. A culture that is entertained by it, profits from it, talks it, glorifies it, swims in it. And every so often, when the day is bad enough, gets shocked and sickened by it.”
Mike’s article did its job and made me think. I’d like to share my thinking about this with you. Since every thought becomes part of collective thought, and every emotion becomes part of collective emotion, what questions might we be asking ourselves now that can help turn the tide of negativity?
Where in my life do I support or gravitate towards violence?
It’s a powerful question and your first response may be to say that you don’t gravitate towards violence at all. Let’s take a deeper look at where we all contribute – even a little bit – to the amount of violence that exists on our planet today.
Let’s start with our “self-talk”. The first place we can reduce the amount of violence in the world is by being gentle with how we talk to ourselves.
Since your body hears everything you say, when your self-talk is negative (“You stupid idiot, where did you put the keys now?”) or violent (“I’ll shoot myself if forgot those keys again!”) your body feels the impact of the words and reacts with the bio- chemistry of fear. It rapidly increases your heart rate and blood pressure and starts pumping cortisol, adrenaline and almost 50 other compounds that get your body ready for action. That emergency response is a life saver when it’s really needed, but a life stealer when it’s activated over and over again dozens of times a day.
When your brain is in “what’s wrong?” mode you find lots of things that are wrong and there you are in a bad mood again. Take a good look at how you talk to yourself and learn to speak to yourself as gently and with as much kindness and good humor as you would with a precious child.
Laugh at yourself when you lose the keys and then fix the problem by hanging a big key hook near the door. Use moments like that as an opportunity to stop, take a deep breath, and be more mindful. When you do, you change the chemical cocktail that your body produces and start producing the chemistry of calm. In short order your body begins repairing itself and giving you the opportunity to experience a positive emotion – one that you can then spread to others. Be kind to yourself.
The second place we can reduce the violence in the world is by changing the way we speak to others. Pay attention to the poor communication models we have on sitcoms and talk shows. Do you practice them anywhere? Cynicism, sarcasm at someone else’s expense, criticism, embarrassment, shame, blame and condemnation are low level negative vibrations and have absolutely no place in a positive workplace or customer caring company.
If you practice or condone these types of behaviors anywhere in your organization you are eroding the very relationships that you should be supporting and you are contributing to the violence in our culture.
If you bully, or accept bullying in your organization, it’s time to take a good look at its impact – fear, negativity, disengagement, disenfranchisement, dis-empowerment, pain, and loss of productivity to name a few.
Human systems move in the direction of the things they talk about. When you talk about the places you can add value, deliver happiness, build relationships and foster emotional connections and loyalty you create a force for good. When you look for places you can be kind, generous and grateful you change your own bio-chemistry and that of others for good. (A kindness delivered, received or observed increases serotonin levels in all those involved.) Be kind to others.
Take a look at what you consume. The media and the entertainment industry glorify violence. When you support the gratuitous use of violence or sensationalism in any medium you are part of the problem. Stop buying, stop looking, stop partaking in violent TV, reality shows, movies, video games or sports. They produce them because we buy them.
The human brain, because of the way its structured, is hard wired to notice things that might be dangerous, so we do gravitate towards the negative things. That’s biology but it doesn’t have to be destiny.
To move away from negativity and violence requires thought, effort and commitment. To move towards positivity and peace requires taking a stand personally and professionally to use our thoughts, words and actions to deliberately create more positive energy, positive emotion and positive outcomes in our world.
What will you do to create more positivity and peace? In this season of peace, let us all take a stand against the violence our culture produces.
The late Anita Roddick once said, “If you think you are too small to make a difference, try going to bed with a mosquito in the room.”
We all make the difference. This is our defining moment.