Whether you are a firefighter, a medic, a police officer or a soldier you face the reality that the next call you go to, or the next mission you run may end up as your last call.
Every morning when we wake up and go to the station or report for a briefing, we face the reality that there are forces outside our control that may result in our not coming back from that day’s calls/mission. In Arizona we recently witnessed 19 brave souls who faced their last callout. RIP brothers.
Every day hundreds of thousands of us leave our spouses, kids, parents, siblings, and friends to respond. What do they feel about our chosen path? How do they, our loved ones, handle the very same daily scenario? Some are faced with overwhelming fear that their loved one will not return. Some recognize the reality for what it is and simply choose to not dwell on it. Some are grateful that they will finally have some time alone. So, what is the difference that makes the difference?
- To answer this question we need to explore:
- What is an emotion?
- What causes emotions?
- What can we do to control or change them?
- What can we do to help our loved ones, our spouses, to be at peace with the reality of the dangers faced by our chosen occupation (volunteer or career, it doesn’t matter)?
What is an emotion?
Wikipedia states: “In psychology and philosophy, emotion is a subjective, conscious experience that is characterized primarily by psychophysiological expressions, biological reactions, and mental states.” The two words I would like to bring your attention to are “subjective” and “conscious”. They are subjective to the person experiencing them and they are a consciously created (this does not however necessarily mean intentional).
What causes an emotion?
Well, according to Tony Robbins, a 30+ year student of human behavior who has worked with more than 3 million people, says that basically an emotion is a feeling that is made up of, or more accurately created by, three things or a triad. Those three things are Focus, Language, and Physiology. Focus is defined as the topic or scenario that one’s attention is dwelling upon. Language is the sum of the words or phrases that one is using to communicate with themselves or others. Physiology is the very specific motion or position that we put our bodies into while experiencing a specific emotion. For example, the triad of the emotion called “victorious” is very different than the triad of the emotion called “defeated”.
What can we do to change them?
Now that we know what they are made of — Focus, Language and Physiology — we have what we need to disassemble them. When you change any one of these three, the emotion must change. It is impossible for the nervous system to hold the triad of that which makes us laugh and to hold the triad of that which makes us cry tears of sadness at the same moment. Granted some may switch back and forth rapidly, but they cannot coexist in the nervous system at the same time.
When my children are grumpy, (or sometimes even my wife) I set my intention on making them laugh. With Mason, my 7-year-old, tickling is usually very effective. With my wife I often need to be more creative. But in either case it brings to their awareness that they have to choose to go back to the triad of “grumpy” after the pattern has been interrupted.
The fastest and easiest part of the triad to change is Physiology. If you are feeling “down” just jump up, smile big and throw and hold your arms up high and, if you want, say something like, “I LOVE my life!!” I guarantee that your emotion will change from what is was before. If you choose to, stand up and list all the things that you are grateful for in life, all the people that you Love and all the people who Love you, and you will find your emotions change. There are cases where people have cured themselves of dis-eases like cancer simply by investing hours a day engaging in and laughing with comedy of all sorts.
Another very important precursor to the experiencing of an emotion is the belief upon which the thoughts or focus is built. For example, if a person believes “Bungee jumping is inherently, unpredictably dangerous and only a crazy person would jump off a 300-foot platform with nothing but a tiny little rubber band tied to their ankle,” this person will experience one kind of emotion when they think about bungee jumping or someone they love bungee jumping.
What are the beliefs that we can identify just in this statement and how can we cause the believer to question the validity of the belief upon which their thought is based?
“Inherently, unpredictable”? Is that true?
That it is dangerous. I suspect that the engineers who design the systems would disagree with both #1 and #2.
Only a crazy person would jump… There are thousands of very sane jumpers.
300-ft platform… what if it was only 100 or 75 feet? Would that be different?
“Tiny little rubber band”? What if the band was rated at 4x the expected weight and there was a backup band of equal strength?
“Tied to the ankle”? What if the ankle harness system was also rated to many times the expected weight and the backup bungee was connected to a full waist and chest harness?
When we can go upstream to the beliefs from which the thoughts emanate and loosen the grip of that belief on the individual then we free them to the possibility of holding a new belief which would render the previous thought or focus irrelevant. Often when we express fear of a thing, say flying or heights, it is not the flying or heights that is the real fear. It is the thought or mental image of crashing or falling that we are afraid of and the story that we make up about what it would mean. If we think about how devastated our children/family will be and how their lives would be ruined if we were not there because our plane crashed then we will have a very different feeling than if we focus on the confidence and independence we have instilled in our children and believe in their ability to adapt and how we have provided for their financial stability and have designated Loving caring guardians should we no longer be there.
Get clear on what the real fear is. Then ask:
- What would have to happen for that to no longer be a legitimate fear?
- How can we prepare so that the concerns are mitigated?
- What meaning could we give the future event that would make this emotional reaction inappropriate?”
- For example, if someone cuts me off in traffic and I think, “what a selfish A$$-hole,” I feel angry. But if I think, “boy, I hope everyone is ok” or “I am sure there is a justifiable reason for him to be in such a hurry,” the emotion of anger would no longer be appropriate and would not be experienced.
So how can we apply this to helping our loved ones experience less anxiety and stress over the dangers inherent to our work? Get curious about what the actual feeling or emotion is. Often times they will have to explore themselves at a level they have not done before in order to identify and name the fear. Seek to understand the root cause of the feelings. Get curious what the beliefs are that are leading to the thoughts/fears. This also takes a lot of self-honesty, deep trust and intimacy to share. This can be a beautifully connecting conversation because often our Loved ones feel understood and appreciated in a way they are not accustomed to.
I have come to believe that our emotions are our guidance system and are inherent to the experience of being human. I believe that every emotion has a message for us. The message of fear is “get prepared” and the message of anger is there for self-preservation. Even animals have emotions at some level. Right? What makes us a higher order of animal? I believe it is our ability to be consciously aware of the emotion and to CHOOSE to hold it, let it go or change it.
When I asked my wife what she experienced or thought as I went off to work, she said she mostly chose to not focus on it or give it much thought at all but when she did think about it she felt proud of the work I did and when the thought of “The Last Call” came into her mind she told herself, as much as she wanted me to be in her life for the rest of her life, she would be OK without me and she could be at peace with the fact that I died doing something that I was called to do.
Lastly, I made a commitment to myself that I would always do what I could to ensure that those I loved would never doubt that I loved them. I would always leave my loved ones, my wife and children, with a word or action that I could live with being my last word or action towards them. I would think about them living the rest of their lives with my last words ringing in their ears and the last expression on my face being the one they remember. If I was OK with it, I would go; if not, I would fix it. It didn’t always mean it was over but they always new my Love was bigger than the issue at hand. I know it sounds cheesy but in the movie Minority Report one scene shows the intuitive woman in the house of the main character and feeling “there is so much Love in this house.” I, and my wife, consciously strive to create that energy in our home.
In the movie Act of Valor, Lt. Rorke says ”… Love your life, perfect your life. Beautify all things in your life. Seek to make your life long and of service to your people. When your time comes to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song, and die like a hero going home.”