Two for Flinching

We all have defense mechanisms.

Things that our minds do automatically in response to danger, real or perceived. When someone throws a rock at your head (which I hope isn’t a common occurrence), a whole lot of things happen at once without you consciously engaging them or in many cases even realizing them: You squint your eyes tightly shut in order to protect them; you duck away from the projectile; you throw your arms up to put them in the path of the incoming object; maybe you yell or make some other involuntary noise.

All of those things happen in many cases before you’re even aware of the nature of the danger. An object is hurtling towards your head – it could be a rock, a baseball, or just a soft stuffed bear your kid threw at you that couldn’t possibly hurt you. Doesn’t matter – the flinching is automatic. Your brain doesn’t waste time carefully evaluating the event before responding.

In terms of objects lobbed at your dome, that’s probably best. But we flinch in a lot of circumstances, not all of them flying-object-related. If you lose your job, you “flinch.” Suddenly you do a lot of things that you aren’t necessarily deliberating on; they’re reactions out of fear. You might take sudden and drastic measures, like immediately rushing back to a prior job that was a toxic environment for you or sell your car for quick cash even though you’ll definitely need it. If you get broken up with, you flinch too – maybe you engage in bad behavior or burn bridges.

We don’t like getting hurt. We flinch to avoid it.

We have a good long history of evolved responses to heavy objects flying at us, so our flinch responses are pretty well-tuned to protect us efficiently from that. We don’t, however, have any real evolutionary or in many cases even personal history tuning our flinch responses to not getting that promotion or having your car broken into. But the part of your brain that engages in response to danger and screams in your ear “don’t think, act!” goes into overdrive none the less. That part of your brain doesn’t know that it doesn’t actually have any good ideas – it’s never been its job to have them. Just to flinch.

So it’s worth examining our flinch responses. It’s absolutely worth looking at anything important to us and saying “what would I do if I lost this?” You don’t need a bullet-pointed emergency plan or anything, but if you’re living paycheck-to-paycheck and you’re very reliant on your job, it’s worth devoting some time to exploring the thought of losing it. The worst case scenario is you’re a little better prepared to calmly make good decisions if you do lose it; the best case scenario is you see actions you can take now to prevent the loss in the first place.

Reacting the wrong way to pain, danger and loss can often cause as much harm as the initial loss. Give a little thought now while you’re calm, or you might get two for flinching.

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