Character Chats

How to read the signs to tell how we’re feeling

Every month we have a word of the month as part of our social, emotional learning here at True Balanced Karate. It’s called our True Character program.

This month’s true character word is composure.

Composure means: calm brain, calm body. Or for our older kids: keeping calm, steady, and in control while under pressure.

Smart brain, lizard brain

Last week we talked a little bit about the difference between our smart brain and our lizard brain. So we all have our cortex, our smart brain — the side of our brain that thinks, uses logic, and works things out.

Then there’s the amygdala, the lizard brain — that old part of our brain that says fight or flight. It’s the part of your brain that helps to keep you safe when in danger. That’s a good thing.

If it was 1,000 years ago and we were in a cave and a tiger was trying to eat us, the amygdala kicks in and says, “you better do something because you’re about to be dinner.” It’s good for that.

However, many times in our modern life that lizard part of the brain is not so good. So we’re going to talk about our composure — how we can gather ourselves and use the smart side of the brain.

Now, remember everybody has feelings. That’s an important part of who we are. Right?

Sometimes we get really angry, upset, and scared. Sometimes those feelings get so big inside of us that it can kind of take us over.

Have you ever had a conversation with somebody when they’re clearly angry and you say to them, “Oh, hold on. Why are you so angry?” And they yell at you, “I’m not angry!”

It happens to all of us. We don’t always recognize that those big feelings have come in and taken us over.

So how can we tell?

Reading the signs

We can work on reading the signs. When we read the signs of our feelings, we try to look inside of us and understand when one of these big feelings is popping up.

For example, if you’re feeling angry, how does that feel? Where do you feel it? Do you feel it in your stomach? Sometimes your stomach starts to turn.

Do you feel it in your muscles? Do you feel like everything gets tight? Do you feel it in your face? Can you feel your face getting red? Can you feel it kind of in that back of your head, like, “Oh, I have to do something.”

When we read these signs, we can understand, “Uh oh, one of those big emotions is starting to take over. I’m going to need to do something to make sure I keep my composure, to make sure I don’t let it take over me, to make sure I don’t start acting like a lion is trying to eat me when really mom just said I can’t go outside and play. Because I’ve got other things to do.”

Anxiety and nervousness

We have lots of other feelings too for which we can learn to read the signs. What about when you’re anxious and nervous — where do you feel that? You feel it in your stomach? Feel butterflies in your stomach bubbling up?

Do you feel anxious and nervous in your shoulders? Do they come up a little bit? Do you feel yourself coming inwards when you feel anxious and feeling those scared feelings coming over? How about does your mind start to roll with what could happen?

Okay, those are all signs that we’re getting a little anxious.

Again, we want to say to ourselves, “Wait a second. Okay. I’m about to do a karate test. I’m anxious. That means I think it’s important. I’m taking it seriously. But if I don’t do well on the karate test is a tiger going to come up and carry me off and have me for dinner? No. Wait, so maybe I shouldn’t get so anxious. Maybe I should hold my composure. I understand it means I take it seriously, but you know what? If it doesn’t go well, it’s not like I’m lunch for somebody today.” Let’s keep our smart brains going.

Being scared

How about when you’re scared of worry? We get scared. That’s an important emotion. Being scared tells us we need to do something.

Bad storms are coming through, the sirens go off. (This happened the other month around here.) We decide, “Hey, I think I need to go to the basement right now. We need to get into a safe place. So nobody gets hurt.”

It’s important to have those scared feelings. But do we want to lose our composure? If a big storm is going on and the sirens started going off, should you start running circles around your bedroom? Oh no. No.

Instead, you grab your flashlight, your phone, and start heading downstairs. Call the pet into the basement. Make sure everybody stays nice and safe. It’s important to not let that scared feeling take you over.

Feeling worried

We also can feel worried — worried about the future.

First, let me ask: does worrying about something ever change it? No.

We can get a little worried. We can ask ourselves, “Can we do anything about that? Is that likely to happen? What can I do to prevent it?” And then not let that worry take you over. Worry will never change the future.

Where do you feel that worried? Sometimes you feel it kind of up in the chest, a little tightness across. Almost feels like scared or anxious, but usually not quite as much as that. Kind of a little less, but always there.

When we recognize those worried, scared, anxious, angry feelings — when we recognize what those are like and they’re starting to come up, bubble up, and take us over and maybe engage that lizard side of our brain to make us do something we didn’t want to do — we want to remember to use our composure and try to back off from that.

All right, that’s our composure lesson for the week.

We’ll see everybody out on the mat.
– Master Helsdon