Want strength? Some of the most feared fighters in history were known as the Berserkers. These Norse warriors were named because of their ‘bersker rage’ – a mad fit of anger that they would leverage on the battle field. In this heightened and agitated state, they would become appear invulnerable and would also be able to accomplish feats of incredible strength.
Enemies facing the Berserkers on the battlefield would be terrified, and it is a well-known fact that campaigns are 90% won when the opposition is defeated in their mind.
There have been more recent accounts of something similar too. Hysterical strength is a term used to describe more recent scenarios where individuals have seemingly been able to dig into an immense reserve of strength on demand.
This is where the stories of Mothers lifting cars off their children trapped beneath come in.
Think it’s just a myth? Turns out there is a solid scientific explanation for how this might be possible. Under extreme stress, it seems likely that the body produces excess amounts of testosterone, adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones increase the heart rate, focus, awareness and muscle tone and this is where the extra strength comes from.
Actually, it goes even a little deeper than that. The thing is, all of us have limits to our strength imposed by our minds and our biology. When you go to lift a weight, you do so by recruiting muscle fibre – little bands that make up the muscle and contract in order to give us our strength. The most muscle fibre that the average person can recruit at once under normal circumstances is around 30%. The most that a highly trained athlete can recruit is closer to 50%. So, a highly trained athlete is only capable of tapping into roughly half of their maximum strength. This is what we mean when we refer to a ‘mind muscle connection’.
The reason we can’t access so much of our strength is a) that it would likely cause us injury as we would break a muscle, pull a ligament etc. and b) that it would fatigue us. If we were to use that much of our muscle power in a single movement, we’d have no energy left for anything else!
But under the right circumstances, being able to dip into these huge reserves of strength is incredibly useful. And adrenaline and other hormones under the right conditions allow us to tap into that power. Studies show that yelling in the gym can actually increase adrenaline and thereby enhance muscle fibre recruitment, resulting in strength improvements!
Now imagine if you could tap into even just 80% of that power at will simply by harnessing your emotions.
And here’s a great example of an early stage entrepreneur explaining in an interview with Jason Saltzman how she used her pain to keep her pushing forward.
Emotions for Calm, Collected Focus
But there’s only so far that being able to leap tall buildings and lifting cars will get you. In the real world, physical strength isn’t really what matters.
This is where the ‘flow state’ comes in. A flow state is often described as a state of calm, focused, bliss. It is what happens when the world seems to slow down because you are so intently focussed and engaged on what you are doing. This is also known as “being in the zone”.
Have you ever opened a cupboard and seen something fall out but moved in super-fast motion to catch it? That’s flow state.
More often we hear about it in extreme sports – athletes finding their flow and being able to pull off incredible stunts at incredible speeds.
Outside of physical activities, it is seen in music. When the entire band synchronises whilst playing, this is a type of flow state.
When you have a conversation with someone that lasts all night, that’s a flow state.
When you’re writing a book and you write so long that you don’t even notice the time passing that is a flow state.
Studies show us that executives in flow manage are hugely more productive than those that aren’t. The same goes for startups and other entrepreneurs.
So, what is flow?
Flow is another emotion. Another mental state that is triggered by the release of hormones and neurotransmitters. In this case, it is a subtle variation on the fight or flight response, a subtle variation on stress and panic. Here, you believe something is just as important as preventing yourself from getting injured, it is just as compelling as fighting for your life – but it is also fun rather than scary.
You have the entire attention of your body and mind which brings about a release of excitatory hormones along with calming ones and those related with bliss – such as anandamide. This actually suppresses activity in the prefrontal cortex, triggering a state known as ‘temporary hypo-frontality’. This prevents us from worrying, from second guessing or from over-thinking.
You just do.
It’s the opposite to how most of us live our lives today and that’s why many of us are filled with anxiety, frozen with fear.
Imagine being able to talk up to a woman/man in a bar and deliver your wittiest conversation ever. Imagine being able to talk in front of an audience with passion and conviction and enrapture them completely in what you’re saying. Imagine being able to work on the projects that matter to you for hours on end without even looking up.
No fear. No doubt. No bursts of anger or unwanted emotion.
This is when our best work is done. This is when we are happiest.
Many people try and live their lives in flow as much as possible. The problem is that most of us are full of anxiety and busy with chores and things we need to do. These limitations leave us stressed, anxious and busy and they take our mind out of the moment. Our entire body and mind cannot possibly be in-sync when we are worrying about debt, or what our boss said at the office.
Entering flow means being in the moment which not only makes you happy and confident – it makes you unstoppable.
Taking Control of Your Emotions
So how do you take back control over your emotions? There are multiple ways, but let’s address two important points: physiology and mindset.
Physiology refers to the fact that your emotions are really an extension of how you feel. Emotions describe things like happiness, sadness, anger, fear. We think that these emotions are born from our minds but a lot of the time, that’s not the case at all.
Rather, emotions come from our bodies. Emotions come from feelings which include things like hunger, tiredness, hot, cold.
The very function of your emotions is to trigger behaviours that will help you to fix the way you feel. When you haven’t eaten enough lately, your blood sugar dips. This, in turn, triggers a release of cortisol – the stress hormone. This tells you that something needs to change and wakes you up and in the wild, this would have encouraged you to look for food.
When you eat, your blood sugar spikes, you produce leptin and serotonin. This makes you happy and content and encourages you to sleep – eventually serotonin converts to melatonin the sleep hormone.
So, in other words, the way you feel is often the result your physiology and that changes the way you think. You think you’re angry because you had a bad day? Possibly. More likely, you had a bad day because you’re angry. And you’re angry because:
- You didn’t sleep
- You’re in mild pain
- You haven’t eaten enough
- You’ve eaten the wrong things
So, one way to change your emotions and to take back control is to acknowledge them. Firstlyrecogniseze that if you’re angry, it’s probably due to physiological reasons and it will pass. At least it won’t seem so bad later.
Secondly, seek to change this. Eat something. Sleep. Take the cue. Learn to follow your own rhythms and work when you’re naturally most productive. Follow the rhythms of the day and get your circadian cycles in check.
And at the same time, look at ways you can directly control your physiology. The very best way? Breathing!
If you learn to breathe correctly (using belly breathing to fill the lower portion of the lungs, then the upper portion) and if you use slow, controlled breaths, then you will be able to lower your heart rate and calm your entire body. This will change your parasympathetic tone, taking you out of ‘fight or flight’ and into ‘rest and digest’. Try it the next time you feel overly stressed, overly competitive or worked up after an intense workout – your heart rate will slow and your mind will grow calmer.
Leave a comment below and tell me when you last went “berserk” and what it took to calm you. Did you calm yourself? Did you change your physiology? Was it something else that made you change your behaviour? When were you last in flow? Why did you access the flow emotions at that particular moment?