From Chaos to Coherence

The Emotional Challenge of Y2K

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The Y2K problem is clearly unprecedented, requiring creativity, ingenuity, and above all, emotional balance. It arrives at a time when uncertainty and the pace of change are already increasing at breakneck speed. Much like trying to predict the path and devastation of an approaching hurricane, little can be known beforehand as to how widespread the impending destruction will be, how extensive the infrastructure breakdowns, or how long-lasting the effects. But the silver lining in this otherwise gloomy scenario is the potential we each have to prepare ourselves, our families and our communities, internally--emotionally--for what is to come. Begin thinking now that the Y2K challenge revolves not just around preparing to survive and avoiding inconvenience, but around a set of opportunities for personal growth and community resilience.

This Action Guide has done much to educate you about the potential impact of Y2K on your business and personal life. It is now up to you to choose how you'll respond and how your emotions and behavior will affect your spheres of influence: family, friends, organization, community. Some will prepare in rational, measured ways. Others, especially those who hear only brief fear-based snippets in the media, will make decisions out of worry and paranoia. Readers on the other side of the millenium will look back at how we as a global community have dealt with the first truly global, man-made disaster. Did we prepare well? Did we pull together in a sense of community to address the issues maturely and with balance? Or did we overreact and allow selfish interests to distort more balanced perspectives? Did the tendency to assign blame result in a frenzy of litigation? Or did it give us a new perspective on how technology dependent we had become? Did we look for and find hope in the midst of gloom?

The Institute of HeartMath has worked with teachers, nurses, business executives, police chiefs and many other people and organizations from all walks of life over the last 10 years. We have learned that even in the midst of the most frustrating chaos, a new level of coherence can emerge. Our view is that new levels of personal, family and organizational efficiency, synchronization, and effectiveness are possible. In the face of Y2K, a situation fraught with a variety of emotional traps such as denial, paralysis, shock and panic, discovering how to unlock new levels of human intelligence and cooperation is our best and perhaps only hope.

One of the most effective things individuals can do is to maintain personal responsibility for their emotions and not add to the stress and chaos of the situation. HeartMath offers tools that you can use to manage your emotions and gain mental and intuitive clarity about what to do.

Institute of HeartMath research shows that aligning the mind with the heart increases intelligence, enhances intuition and helps you find creative solutions in balance with the needs of other people. We call it 'intui-technology'--the unfolding of intuition and the mind's fuller capacities. Core heart values, such as care, respect, appreciation and love, are what create the alignment between heart and mind. Without these core heart feelings, the mind cannot achieve its potential. It short circuits. As people engage their core heart values, an awareness emerges that brings new intelligence and practical solutions.

Freeze Frame

The principal tool we use in all our workshops and trainings to achieve heart/mind alignment or synchronization is called Freeze-Frame. Its effectiveness has been scientifically proven in a variety of research studies. This research demonstrates what many of us already know intuitively--that our mental and emotional attitudes, our immune system and our happiness are directly related to the health of our heart.

Freeze-Frame means telling yourself to stop and freeze whatever internal program you are experiencing so that you can evaluate any situation with more clarity. You know what your TV looks like when you press the pause button on the VCR. The picture freezes. When you practice Freeze-Frame, you simply become still inside and frame the moment. Then by activating the heart you gain more objectivity and clarity needed for improved decision-making. We have all heard the saying, 'Be still and know.' Freeze-Frame shows you how.


Here are the steps:

1. Recognize the stressful feeling and Freeze-Frame it. Take a time out.

2. Make a sincere effort to shift your focus to the area around your heart. Pretend you are breathing through the heart to help you focus your energy in this area. Keep your focus there for 10 seconds or more.

3. Recall a fun, positive feeling or time you've had in your life and attempt to re-experience it.

4. Now, using your intuition, common sense, and sincerity, ask your heart what would be a more efficient response to the situation, one that would minimize future stress?

5. Listen to what your heart says in answer to your question.

It's good to close your eyes while learning how to Freeze-Frame. It can also be helpful to put your hand on your heart in step two to help focus your attention there. Sometimes you may not get an answer right away or the answer you get may be simple common sense, or something you already knew. Other times you may experience a major shift in perspective. With sincere practice, Freeze-Frame can produce these kinds of shifts with consistency. The book Freeze-Frame: One Minute Stress Management (Planetary LLC, 1998) offers a more detailed explanation, the research behind this technique, and its many applications.


Building Coherence

Our model for building coherence out of chaos is composed of four

1. Internal self-management

2. Coherent communication

3. Boosting organizational climates

4. Strategic processes and renewal

This model shows that internal self-management--reducing our emotional overreactions to achieve balance and equanimity--is the bottom line of individual and social effectiveness. It recognizes the negative impact stress has on people while providing the science and tools for neutralizing the negative effects. We must remember that even without the strain of Y2K, many people are already feeling overstressed and on the edge of personal chaos. Achieving coherent communication in an increasingly noisy world is particularly important when we consider the emotional charge of much of the Y2K-related information. Next, a growing body of research reveals that the emotional climate people live and work in is critically important to their long-term health and well-being. Y2K challenges our social and organizational systems to become even more adaptable and resilient at a time when a 'bunker mentality' could seem quite reasonable. And finally, we all have an ongoing need for renewal at every step of the way, especially when the potential for emotional drain is so prevalent.


Internal Self-Management

Consider that families and organizations are living systems composed of people who think and feel. Each system is a large complex organism whose health and resilience depend on many of the same factors that determine an individual's health and balance. Y2K is like a virus not only attacking computer systems and microprocessors, but also threatening the security and stability of millions of people globally. The very technology we have grown so dependent upon has suddenly become a threat: what will it do to our lifestyle, our children, our conveniences, our sense of hope for the future? The mature and wise among us will prepare carefully for inconveniences while remaining keenly aware there will be life after Y2K. We can grow in intelligence through this crisis or let it take us down.

A few things are clear:

· The pressure on the individual will increase dramatically over the next few years, heightened by, but not solely because of, Y2K. Individuals and groups need to increase flexibility, adaptability and resilience in the face of this increasing pressure.

· Reducing and neutralizing stress in other areas of one's life saves energy for Y2K-related issues. Start by identifying and plugging leaks in your own personal system. Use the Freeze-Frame tool.

· Any system--human, biological or mechanical--needs time to be renewed, lubricated, aligned and recharged. Intelligent capacity will then increase.

Research conducted at the Institute of HeartMath over the past 10 years has revealed new understandings about the intelligence of the human system and how to maximize intelligent adaptations to change. The human body is an incredible system--roughly seven trillion cells with a mind-boggling level of physical and biochemical coordination necessary just to turn a page, scratch an itch, or drive a car. When you consider how little of it you have to think about, it becomes even more amazing. When was the last time you reminded your heart to beat, your lungs to expand and contract, or your digestive organs to secrete just the right chemicals at just the right time? These and a myriad of other processes are handled unconsciously for us every moment we live. Intelligence--much of it unconscious--manages the whole system.

But what is also becoming increasingly apparent is that these same processes are profoundly affected by what we consciously do: what we think, what we feel, how we react. Research is now clear that the inability to manage oneself emotionally in an efficient manner leads to premature aging, diminished mental clarity, and blocked access to our innate intelligence. Emotional reactiveness, fear and internal emotional noise all inhibit the processing capability in the cortex, the seat of our higher brain functions. Unresolved emotional turmoil also taints our social interactions, making collaboration and cooperation strained at best. This is why smart people can do stupid things. The converse is also true: Increasing internal coherence leads to more efficiency in all physiological systems and greater creativity, adaptability, and flexibility. The greater degree of emotional balance we are able to achieve and sustain, the greater access we have to creative, innovative solutions to problems such as Y2K.

Consciously shifting to more positive emotional states turns out to offer high-speed access to greater intelligence, intuition and creativity. Beyond just achieving a 'feel-good' state, the increased internal coherence we experience when we feel positive emotionally allows all internal systems to synchronize, thereby maximizing intelligent access. Whether the problem is a relationship with a child or partner or the degree of preparedness that will bring you security and relief, finding a positive emotional experience--a silver lining--to focus on can jumpstart a new creative process. Even reminding oneself that 'the situation truly could be worse,' can help neutralize runaway emotional juggernauts.

The heart and brain are connected in every human being through elaborate nerve pathways allowing two-way communication of vital information. This inner information highway is often congested due to unrecognized emotional stress, anxiety or fear. But synchronization between heart and brain--between the intuition of the heart and the intellect of the brain--results in greater fulfillment and far more balanced decision making. The positive emotional states of care, appreciation, or love, which are often associated at least metaphorically with the heart, have a dramatic positive impact on this information highway. Our research, and that of others, shows that when people are feeling positive emotionally, their brain function is enhanced while their cardiovascular function is also made more efficient.

It's easy to see how the opposite of this is also true: when we are frustrated, anxious, or fear driven, decisions are often shortsighted and narrow. Biologically speaking, our intelligent capacity is impaired by the volume of this internal emotional noise. We say things we regret, we overreact over 'little things,' and we strain our own system needlessly. Finding a positive emotional experience to focus on, particularly when stress is high, can be challenging to say the least. But the effort can pay surprising dividends. Even achieving a 'neutral' emotional state can lead to saved energy, better decisions and more balanced relationships. In all Y2K discussions and reflections, ask your heart what are the balanced approaches to take. Listening only to a frantic mind can make matters worse. The emotional energy you save as you prepare yields greater energy when you need it most.

In any planning sessions surrounding your personal or organizational response to Y2K, keep the emotional volume to a minimum. This principle is particularly essential in the area of communication.


Coherent Communication

The communication challenges surrounding Y2K are considerable. What to believe? Which information is truly balanced and carefully considered versus alarmist and extreme? As the typical media frenzy to uncover the next stimulating story really catches on to Y2K, we could be in for a wild ride. Here are some essential points to reflect on:

· Reduce emotionalism in all Y2K-related communication.

· Avoid feeding paranoia, fear and anxiety while keeping realistic, balanced perspectives.

· Be authentic in telling the story, as best you know it.

When the quality of communication is low, when the importance of it is ignored, or when we simply tell ourselves 'other things are more pressing,' organizational and personal efficiency suffer. Y2K makes these patterns worse. Coherent communication is based on four key principles:

1. Achieve understanding first.

2. Listen nonjudgmentally.

3. Listen for the essence.

4. Be authentic.

Underlying these principles is the belief that compassion, mature understanding, and intuitive sensitivity are needed to weather the Y2K storm. These qualities often emerge after disasters as neighbors help neighbors, and whole communities reach out to other communities devastated by a flood, earthquake or tornado. We can engage them beforehand, to the benefit of all.


Boosting Family, Social and Organizational Climates

In the social interactions of people, certain key elements can keep attitudes and energy high. The lack of these prepare the environment for an outbreak of what we have called the emotional virus. Many researchers have looked at what makes social climates strong and resilient. Invariably the common factors involve the following:

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