Character Chats

How can we think to be calm?

This month’s word of the month is composure.

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

So how do we use our smart brains to think and stay calm?

Composure is all about keeping ourselves calm so we don’t do things that we regret later when we get angry, sad, scared, etc.

Lizard brain, smart brain

We all have feelings and emotions, and sometimes those feelings and emotions can be very powerful. Sometimes it can feel like they completely take us over, and we can feel like we have absolutely no control over them.

We have two sides to our brain. We have our cortex — that’s the smart brain. And we have our amygdala, the lizard brain. My instructor used to call it “lizard brain, smart brain.”

Our amygdala is the old part of our brain that decides fight or flight. It’s the part that would take over when people lived in the wild — lived in caves and they had to be afraid of a tiger eating them or a lion coming to get them, or some kind of animal attack.

When you get scared, the amygdala takes over and says fight: “I’m going to throw things like rocks, swing, scream, or fight off the animal.” Or flight: “I’d better run like crazy and get out of here.”

Maintaining your composure

Now, in modern life, there’s not a lot of times for fight or flight.

Sometimes we get angry over a video game. Sometimes we get angry because somebody says “no.” Sometimes we just get angry over things. And that old part of our brain, that lizard brain, jumps in and says fight or flight. 

But screaming and throwing things at the TV because you didn’t win in the video game doesn’t really help. It might help when a lion is trying to eat you, but when you don’t pass a level of the video game, it’s not so helpful.

Maintaining our composure is having ways to control ourselves to engage our smart brain and not let our lizard brain take over and drive us to do things that we might regret later.

Wanting a toy

Now let’s go through a couple of situations and see how this is.

Let’s say you’re in a store and you really want a toy and your parent says, “Not today.” How do you show your composure? How do you use your smart brain to make sure that you don’t get in trouble?

Should you yell and scream, saying “Yes, I want the toy today”? Should you start throwing toys at mom or dad? Would that work? No.

Maybe our lizard brain says we should throw things when we’re upset, because if a lion is trying to eat you it could be a good strategy to throw some things at the lion to scare him off. But if mom and dad are saying no to a toy, it’s not a good strategy — you’re definitely not going to get that toy.

When we get upset and mad, we feel that lizard brain starting to creep in and telling us, “scream, yell, do something.” We need to use our smart brain and get in there and let it know, “No, it’s okay. We’re not really in trouble. Let’s calm down and talk to Mom and Dad.”

Getting screen time

Let’s say you want to watch something on TV or on the screen and you’re told, “No, it’s not your turn yet. Somebody else needs to use it.”

Does it help to scream as loud as you can? Does it help to turn and run right out of the house all the way down the street while screaming, “No!”?

No, it doesn’t.

Might we feel like that sometimes when we’re told “no”? Yeah, you might feel like that. That happens — everybody has feelings — but you want to use that smart brain.

Stop yourself: “Nope, I need to use the smart brain. It is not a lion trying to eat me; it is just dad telling me I can’t use the iPad right now. And if I yell and scream, I’m not going to use the iPad for a week.”

So you can see how if we engage that smart brain, we can try to use it to keep our composure.

Of course you have feelings. Of course you get angry, or you get scared or upset — we have feelings for a reason. Keeping our composure is not letting them take us over when those feelings get big and bubble up on the inside.

All right. And that’s our word of the month.

Thanks and we will see everybody on the mat.
– Master Helsdon