Intensity Is Good, But Control It
Early in my life, I only knew one level of intensity: HIGH. I grew up in a very competitive environment and no matter what I did, I had to win. If not, it was not pretty. I made it ugly for myself and for everyone around me. This required me to be very intense all the time, basically living in a constant state of stress. It was a double-edged sword, as that intensity allowed me to accomplish some things that I may not have otherwise, but it came at a big price. Due to my level of intensity and competitiveness, I was unable to enjoy anything just for the sake of doing it. When I look back, I think, “what a horrible way to go through every day”.
The good news is that with time, I’ve been able to learn to have different levels of intensity based on the particular situation at hand. This transformation has been part standard maturation and part daily battle with myself to “lighten up,” except when it’s necessary to ratchet up the intensity. Don’t get me wrong, by most standards, many would say I’m still pretty intense a lot of the time, but it’s nothing compared to what it used to be. I think my wife and family would agree that I’m a little bit easier to live with now after this “transformation”. The really good news is that this change to someone who is capable of what I like to call “dynamic intensity” has not lowered my productivity at all. In fact, it has increased it, particularly in the area of creativity. When I used to have just “one gear,” it was tough to get into a creative state of mind, as I was too busy “getting it done”.
The metaphor I like to use for this “dynamic intensity” is one I’ve heard attributed to the Navy SEALs, but I do not know if that is accurate. I have not found an authoritative source that talks about its origins. If anyone knows, please drop me a line. The metaphor for “states of awareness” is color coded and goes like this:
Level White: I call it “zoned out”. Living in your own little world, oblivious to what is going on around you. This is basically a relaxed state with little presence of stress. You can think of it as sitting on the couch watching a brain-numbing show that’s somewhat engaging.
Level Yellow: This could be called “semi-aware”. You know where you are. You’re not “zoned out,” but there still is not much stress present. You could think about it as being in the supermarket, where your biggest stress is whether you’re going to have a shopping cart accident with another shopper.
Level Red: This is when you are very aware. You have all your senses turned on and you’re paying attention to all of them. You are assessing your situation to determine whether you need to act to protect yourself, either physically or in a business setting, verbally. You can think of this one as walking down a dark street at night, alone, and hearing some noises that have you concerned.
Level Black: At this level, you are in “fight or flight mode”. It’s everything in Level Red, plus you are now acting based on your senses. This is the primitive fight or flight response that fires up the amygdala and most likely sends a burst of adrenaline into your blood stream. This state was covered in detail in another article I wrote about using the GAMES Approach to overcome your fears. You can think of this one as being in that dark alley late at night and having someone walk up behind you and grab you around the neck.
I have found it very helpful to keep these four “states of awareness” in mind as I go through the day. What I have found is that there is sometimes a tendency to perceive a situation as requiring a level of awareness much higher than it actually requires. I have also found the opposite to be true, where it is tempting to not take a situation as seriously as you should and adjust your state of awareness accordingly.
One thing that has become crystal clear to me is that it is not healthy to always be in the same state of awareness. It is very important to move between the states of awareness as needed, throughout each day. Hopefully you will not have a lot of circumstances that cause you to go to Level Black, but if you do, then by all means ratchet up your awareness and be prepared to “do what you have to do”.
In my experience, many people go through most of their lives at Level White, never challenging themselves and thus never needing to change their state of mind from “zoned out”. That’s a state I wouldn’t choose for myself or my loved ones, at least not on a constant basis, but “to each their own”. We like to spend some time “zoned out” or “chilled out,” in order to relax from other more intense activities, but spending the majority of the time there would be unstimulating and boring, in my opinion. Depending which activities and challenges I’m doing, I like to spend most of my time vacillating between Level Yellow and Level Red. What I’ve become a lot better at with time is moving more easily between the levels and not carrying the “baggage” from the previous level with me.
How about you? Where do you spend most of your time? Do you find this metaphor helpful in thinking about controlling your “states of awareness”?
I look forward to your thoughts and questions. Please leave a comment (“response”) below or in the upper right corner of this post.
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