If you’ve never heard of Jocko Willink, you really should listen to this guy. He is a former Navy Seal Commander, a real warrior, and a total badass. Even looking at his face, you get the idea that he is serious about what he is doing. He just has that face that implies he’s not messing around and is ready to step up with the appropriate response at the proper moment given the right motivation.
Jocko uses his Navy Seal experience to teach businesspeople how to properly conduct themselves as leaders in business and in life. He directly applies what he learned in combat to the boardroom. He lead the way then, he leads the way now. He leads others to lead.
He tells the story of a time when he was new to the teams, right out of Bud/s (Basic Underwater Demolition School – or Navy Seal training hell, - I mean school)
He was the newest member of his team, the fresh guy. On the police department we would call guys right out of training the FNG – the F**king New Guy, most likely modeled after the Seal Teams anyway.
He tells the story that as the FNG he was on a training scenario with the entire team. During the exercise, the entire team seemed to freeze. The whole squad just stopped moving. Jocko noticed the silence. He feared making a decision and giving an order as the new guy. Right or wrong, he would be chastised as acting out of his element. So he simply backed up. He even said in his recollection of the story he actually took a step back and watched the squad. When he stopped and stepped back, he could see exactly what needed to be done. But no one else could see from their vantage point because they were so caught up in what they were doing. They only saw a part of the puzzle. Jocko saw the entire scenario, including the options, obstacles, and opportunities.
He gave a command. The team immediately followed. The exercise was a success. Jocko says it wasn’t because he had a brilliant plan that solved all the problems of the objective. He simply saw what should be done and gave the order to do it. Anyone in his position would have given the same order, but no one else was in his position.
He uses this anecdote to prove a simple point. In business, and in life, we are so caught up in trying to solve the problem that we can’t solve the problem. In his seminars he teaches people to step back and assess a situation before committing to an action.
So why do I bring this up today?
I teach this same concept to my clients. I go over some of these concepts in my Tai Chi classes.
During Tai Chi class, in our opening meditation, I guide students to observe what the body is doing. To observe our thoughts. To observe how our thoughts are affecting our bodies. I instruct them to observe the thought, understand that they are having a thought and they are not the thought, and let the thought go.
Similarly, I teach my clients to observe the situations they are in. To observe without judgment what is really happening in this moment. It is normally an interaction between two people. What emotions are being felt at this moment? Why are these emotions coming up now? At what other time did these emotions rise up like this, and for what reason?
By stepping back, we observe the truth of what is going on. We can see all aspects of this event. We can see this occurrence for what it is, not as our emotions have painted it.
Are we about to react from a place of our emotions? What will this reaction achieve? What is going on around me? What is this person really saying? Does it have anything to do with me? What do I feel about this? Is this person just spouting off and do I really need to interrupt and tell the person where they’re wrong?
By stepping back, we can take a moment to formulate a RESPONSE, instead of committing a kneejerk emotional REACTION.
I’ve watched this happen before. Two people will start talking. One will say something that triggers the other. The other person will then react emotionally to what was just said. The first person will then feel insulted by those remarks and react emotionally in return. Now it becomes a contest of whose feelings were hurt the worst and who feels the most aggrieved about it. Then it devolves into who can intentionally hurt the other the worst. Before long, things are said that cannot be undone. Friendships are lost, relationships are destroyed, families are broken apart.
Take a moment to analyze the truth of what is going on in any given minute. Observe it from a place of equanimity. Equanimity is the ability to remain calm in the present chaos. Equanimity is awareness and observation without judgment or attachment.
Remaining calm is difficult.
But I have an idea.
Take a smoke break.
Yeah, that’s right. Take a smoke break, but don’t use a cigarette. Let me explain.
Have you ever smoked cigarettes, or known someone who has? How did you/they take a drag?
Pulling on a cigarette puts a great demand on the lungs; you can pull very hard but not get a lot of smoke. The small diameter of the cigarette reduces the amount of air you can take in. Add to that the cotton filter, which slows the breath even more. What happens is that you inhale pretty hard but don’t really fill the lungs. So, you take the cig away from your mouth and then suck or gulp air down the throat. It’s a two-stage breath.
When does a smoker tell you they need a smoke? When things are going smoothly and all is right in their world? Or do they tell you the need to “go burn one” before they go to jail? That’s right, they do it to relieve stress.
So try it with me, let’s take a drag. Then I’ll show you why this works.
Purse your lips so that the mouth is just barely open. Now breath in through your mouth only. When done correctly, you should barely get any air in, it should make noise as it does. Now halfway through that breath, open your mouth and suck air in. Pull it all the way down.
Feel what happens to your body when you do this. Try it again.
When you gulp the air, you are activating the diaphragm. When stressed the diaphragm locked up. We use other muscles to breathe. This causes a cascade of reaction within the nervous system.
By activating the diaphragm, breathe deep into the lungs again, which calms the nervous system. Activating the nervous system sedates the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is one of the few vessels that runs through the diaphragm. The vagus nerve modulates our blood pressure and our autonomic nervous system, where our fight or flight reaction resides.
By taking a cigarette break during stress, we are helping to destress the body and nervous system.
It is not the nicotine that calms the smoker’s nerves, it’s the action of the breath. It takes too long for the nicotine to take effect. It is the breath technique that calms the body. You just felt it happen in real time.
So the next time you are in a situation where you find yourself getting closer to an emotional reaction, take a smoke break. Allow your mind the chance to step back, take a look around. Look at the event, situation, or occurrence clearly for what it is and what it has to do with you. Then take another drag. Now formulate a reasonable response (and no response is a response). Once a decision is made, act on it. Commit to a plan of action (or inaction) with mindful purpose and intention.
I guarantee you this will save you lots of grief.
Jocko was on to something good, and he applied it to more than the field of combat. He applies this principle to everyday life. You can too.
Take a moment.
This week in Tai Chi, let’s work on the Yang Style Long Tai Chi form.
Classes are as follows.
All classes are pay as you go. No contracts or commitments.
Dubois County Museum
Classes are $12.
Tri State Holistic Wellness
500 Saint Phillips Rd 47712
Classes are $10 cash
Saturday 11:00 am
Unity of Evansville
4118 Pollack Ave 47714
Classes are $10 cash
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In the Tao,