How to Interpret Your Body’s Signals
There are moments that one remembers. Not because those moments are particularly memorable but because they trigger a physiological reaction that leaves a long-term imprint. Here are a couple of those moments…
Your Body’s Signals–Moment #1
I was 28 years old. My son was a baby at the time. One of our dear friends from university came to stay with us over the Christmas Holidays. It was a Sunday morning and we took him out for brunch at a nearby local deli called The Pickle Barrel.
We were seated at a booth, and not far from our table was another family – 2 kids, 2 parents, and what looked like 2 grandparents. What I witnessed shook me to the core. One of the kids, it was a girl who looked no older than 3 years old, was sitting on her knees leaning over her father’s shoulder from behind. Annoyed with his daughter, the father jabbed her with his elbow hard and pushed her away. She went flying.
My body signaled to me. My jaw tensed up and I could feel myself shaking. I couldn’t tear my eyes away and at that point, the ‘father’ noticed me watching him. It was just one moment when we locked eyes and out of my mouth came the following words… “Don’t do that! Be nice.”
His response – “Mind your own F#@*%ing business!”
For the next two days I couldn’t shake the experience. I kept replaying the scene in my mind. First, because of how he treated his daughter and second, because of the ugly encounter I had experienced directly.
I kept wondering why no one else in his family said anything or came to this little girl’s defence. I wondered what else was going on at home. And I wondered why I was so emotionally invested.
Your Body’s Signals–Moment #2
My husband and I were in the car, driving down the street. It wasn’t just any street. We were in Thornhill, the neighbourhood I had been living in for over 15 years. It was about 8 p.m. and the sun was setting on a warm summer evening. We were stopped at a red light. I turned my head to look out the window and that’s when I saw two groups of teenagers huddled at the side of the road in what was clearly a confrontation. A few guys from one group were physically threatening members of the other group by cornering them and shoving them.
I could feel my heart start racing and my blood pressure escalate. Without hesitation, I rolled down the window and in my loudest, scariest voice I shouted, “Hey! Stop that right now! I’m going to call the police!” My heart was beating at a mile per minute. The groups dispersed, but a few of the kids from one group started heading toward us, clearly disgruntled. I rolled up my window and my husband quickly drove away.
Once again, the experience remained with me. I wondered what the scuffle was about. I wondered if anyone got hurt. I wondered if my intervention made a difference. And I wondered why I was so emotionally invested.
Most people who know me would say that I am generally calm, relaxed, and not prone to dramatic responses. They would say that I am usually “chill” in circumstances that might typically trigger tremendous frustration and probably drive others around the bend.
What Are Your Body’s Signals Telling You?
In both situations, my body had an immediate reaction to what was happening. My heart started racing and the nerves in my stomach were activated. My reaction in these cases was not typical. It was heightened, immediate, and instinctive. Why? Why did these two episodes trigger me to such an extent? What did it mean?
Over the years I’ve come to discover that any contentious situation involving kids is a trigger for me. These are the situations I am most compelled by. The ones that invoke the greatest passion and concern. The ones that create the willingness within me to speak up even when the situation calls for caution and possibly distance. These are the situations that my body’s signals are activated.
Remarkably, many of my coaching clients — leaders in their field, top-level executives, and well established entrepreneurs — often discuss the struggles they experience with their own kids. Temper tantrums, lack of discipline, poor behaviour, over-use of electronic devices, low grades, drug use, disengagement, lack of manners, sibling rivalry – the list is endless.
These are the conversations where every cell in my body engages. These are the moments when I am MOST passionate and clear about my mission in life. These are the moments when I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that if I can help my clients improve their relationships with their children, then a ripple effect will follow for all parties – in school, at work, in other relationships, etc… leaving a positive impact on the world, even if in a small way.
Kids and their well-being matter to me – my physiology keeps confirming that and these signals have led me to dedicate a LOT of my time and attention toward helping parents develop easier, more peaceful, more satisfying and more joyful relationships with their kids.
For me, my racing heart and my increased blood pressure specifically provided the guidance for me to understand that children need to be an important component of my work. Having said that, these physiological signals can be interpreted with a broader perspective.
How We Interpret Our Body’s Signals
When we experience a physiological response to any stimulus, this is a signal that tells us that something important is worth exploring. Our body is telling us physically that there is something happening that really matters and we need to pay attention.
Sometimes, these physiological reactions can be an indicator of fear or danger – and operates as a warning sign to let us know that something is not quite right and we need to be cautious. Other times it can be a reflection of overwhelm or excitement when we are facing a massive opportunity or life event.
The challenge we have is in how we interpret these signals. What do we do when our ‘gut’ is telling us something important? Do we ignore the signs and move forward regardless of what our body is saying? Do we shut down and allow our physiology to paralyze us, preventing us from taking action?
My suggestion is to ask yourself some critical questions in order to truly understand what your body is trying to bring to your attention. Journaling can be a powerful method of working through these questions.
1 – What happened or what is happening to trigger my body to respond this way?
2 – Why do I think I responded this way?
3 – What do I believe to be true about this situation, person, or event?
4 – Are these beliefs actually true? If not, what IS true?
5 – What lessons can I extract from this experience?
The answers to these questions can really help to sort through the emotional turmoil that often follows moments when we are physiologically triggered.