Last week I cut myself. When I looked at the cut this morning, I found out it perfectly healed, like nothing happened. It is actually pretty amazing, that the cells in my finger exactly knew how to grow back! My finger recreated itself even though I did not think about it. It did not need any adjustment; it was a perfect example of the self-organizing ability of my body. And it suddenly hit me: how come our finger is able to ‘create’ so effortlessly, while it seems to take quite some effort to create the life or business we want? The majority of us struggle from one part of our life to the next. When work is going smoothly, the struggle is with our spouse and when we finally create some breakthrough there, the kids start to make trouble. However, the effortless self-organizing ability of our body exists in our entire organism. How great would it be to be able to completely trust and surrender to this system: to do what we are made to do and to experience this as effortless. In our lives and our businesses!
I often notice that the voices in my mind create the fuzz that I relate with the word ‘struggle’. The voices are discussing every choice that needs to be made. It is almost as if there are two opposing forces at work: my intuition, which is gently steering me in a certain direction, and my brain, which creates a whole lot of discussion and sensations around this direction. So which force is the one we need to follow in order to use our self-organizing system and tap into effortlessness? Jan Bommerez, author of ‘Flow and peak performance in business’ (in Dutch: ‘Flow en de kunst van het zakendoen’), says these two sides are not opposing forces; they are two sides of your same self. However, you need to differentiate between the two. Our brain is the force aiming for survival and is there to keep us safe physically. Instinct, which is based on the survival mode of our brain, is always active. It experiences life through our senses and creates immediate feedback through the brain. The other force, intuition, is longing to live your full potential, your purpose. It aims to bring you past this physical experience. Tapping into this force is not automatic. You need to become conscious first. As long as you know that the survival mode is just based on your physical dimension, to keep you safe physically, nothing is wrong. However, when you are identifying your ‘self’, with the survival mode, the tension between the two forces starts to arise. Unconsciously you start to process things based on survival instincts. It might keep you safe, but it also keeps you from fulfilling your life’s purpose in a way that feels effortless.
If we let our instinct take over in times when we are actually quite safe, during the average day at the office or at home, we can become trapped. Take this to the extreme and we get burned out easily. Prof. dr. Bessel van der Kolk explains the survival instinct in his book ‘the body keeps the score’. Our senses (hearing, seeing, smelling) send information to the amygdala, the part of the brain that interprets emotional meaning. In case of a threat, the amygdala sends an immediate signal to release stress hormones; to start the initial fight, freeze or flight reaction. When the danger is passed, the body should recover quickly to the normal state, in which we can connect and create again. This system is clearly seen in nature, for example, when lions are attacking a group of zebra’s. The zebra’s take flight, but when the lions have passed, the zebra’s immediately stop running. You might see some of them ‘shake it off’, or rolling on the ground, to get all the stress out of their bodies. However, in our human life we often do not physically react to the sensation of our stress hormones. We do not fight or flight, which is keeping the hormone levels to recover to their normal states. And we often don’t take the conscious time to release stress out of our bodies in other ways, for example by exercising, doing yoga or meditating. Especially when we are under stress for longer periods of time, our bodies show a constant alertness, a constant arousal of the survival instinct. By this simple phenomenon of not being conscious about the functioning of our survival instinct, we can get unhealthy very quickly.
So how to deal with this automatic survival mode? As Jan Bommerez explains: flowers just blossom by themselves. But flowers do not have free will. We, as people, need to surrender ourselves to the process consciously. When we consciously surrender, life feels effortless and self-organizing. When we are in resistance, in our survival state, everything takes effort. It is not what’s happening to us, in the world around us, that creates the feeling of struggle; it is whether or not we consciously shift to a state of openness to the spontaneity of things. Our survival mode does not want to trust the unknown. It wants security. To feel the effortlessness of the self-organizing force of our being we need to open up, even though our survival mode does not want to.
Three steps to build an effortless life
So where does that bring us? How can we consciously shift to this state of effortlessness and self-organization we all have? We need to act beyond our survival instinct:
- Listen to your intuition:create space for silence and consciousness during the day. In silence our intuition speaks to us. Take a few moments every day to close your eyes and follow your breath. Be aware of anything that is happening inside your body. You might feel some tension in your muscles; you might experience some feelings and emotions, or the chattering of your mind. If you practice this regularly, you will also experience your intuition, a feeling of a very clear ‘knowing’ what to do.
- When the survival instinct takes over:when something is happening during your day, and you feel your survival instinct kicking in, go beyond the immediate reaction. Is this a real threat, or can I let it pass through me and shake it off? If the threat isn’t real, use your breathing as a way to calm down your body.
- Back to base:when you feel your body has a hard time getting rid of some build up stress and you are feeling tense or drained, make sure you give your body a chance to break down these processes. Go for a run or a walk, go to the gym, do yoga; anything that can help your body breaking down the hormones, getting through the fight/flight reaction and getting back to your base level of arousal.