I remember everything about that first punch in the face. I can clearly see the fist heading toward my right eye, as if someone hit the slow motion button. I could make out individual hairs on his arm, saw a bead of sweat fall from the edge of his wrist wrap then felt the slam of his glove against my head gear. As my head veered left and my teeth rattled within my mouth guard, I caught the first hint of the right cross coming next. I regained my balance I slipped my head out of reach. His right fist crossed in front of me, missing my face. I giggled feeling a surge of energy. I was sparring in my Krav Maga class and nothing else mattered but the opponent in front of me and reading his body language as I threw a kick to the back of his knee. My brain had entered Tachypsychia which is when you perceive events happening slower than reality due to a flood of dopamine and norepinephrine. Your brain has decisions to make and those chemicals are firing your synapses double time which means a lot more information flooding your brain suddenly. The effect is that the event feels like its happening in slow motion. Many of us have experienced this during a car accident or other stressful situations. Time doesn’t slow down of course but it feels like things are moving slower because our chemically drenched brains enter hyper drive. This is the ultimate “living in the moment”. The past and future dissolve as you deal with what is happening during a crisis.
Living in crisis mode is not advisable (too draining!) but the spiritualist Eckhart Tolle talks about the value of being in the moment in his book The Power of Now. “Realize deeply that the present moment is all you have. Make the NOW the primary focus of your life.” I’ve spent years not following this advice. As a worrier I’ve fretted over ratings at the station, contract negotiations, even whether the subjects of content I’ve produced thought I gave a fair and accurate account of their story. Living in the now is difficult which is why I spent eight years in Krav Maga training. It was an hour, three times a week, in which I worried about nothing other than which techniques would allow me to land punches and avoid getting hit. I have colleagues in this business who race cars in their off time, are intense practitioners of yoga and one who does challenging open water swims near Alcatraz. All of us need something to remind us what it feels like to be in the moment, where decisions we make now have an immediate impact.
The black and white of crisis doesn’t exist for most of us in our professional lives. Even soldiers and surgeons have down time but living in the moment can help us be better leaders and better co workers. If you’re a leader, your employees cannot wait for what you’ll do in the future because they are dealing with the problems of the past. Helping them negotiate “the now” builds morale, trust and strengthens their loyalty to the company vision, even if that vision has yet to be articulated clearly. As workers, those hobbies that put us in the moment build additional competencies, and allow us to tackle professional issues without ambiguity.
One of the other interesting thing about Tachypsychia is the imprint is deeper than other memories we form. This is why I can remember even the smallest details about that punch in the face and why post traumatic stress disorder results in such vivid, memories. Crisis isn’t crucial to live in the moment but being in the moment helps form deep, detailed and colorful impressions on our brains. Its in those “living in the now” moments that we find answers to our biggest challenges whether personal or professional. Those proficiencies we build in our off work hours can make us infinitely more valuable when we are on the clock.
So as we begin the month of August, lets take the time to set some new goals, try something that will build proficiency outside our profession and spend more of our waking hours in the now.