Optimizing Your BrainOct 24, 2022
A 3, 2, 1 TOOL FOR GETTING BACK TO THE FRONTAL LOBE
It was a sunny day in Southern California. I walked into the winery production room and saw stacks of wine barrels lining the far wall. Rustic metal decorations covered the other walls. The words “Our Happy Place” painted across a wooden sign hung over the hallway that led down to the bathroom. Across the concrete slab sat rows and rows of folding chairs filled with people waiting for the event to begin.
I was invited to be a guest speaker and in a few minutes I would be on. I was nonchalantly standing in the back of the room next to the soundboard as I waited. My fingers wrapped gently around a handheld microphone.
All of a sudden, my apple watch started buzzing like crazy. I had never felt that type of vibration from my watch before. I looked down at my wrist and saw the words “High Heart Rate” displayed on the small screen. It read, “Your heart rate rose above 120 BPM while you seemed to be inactive…”
My heart rate was skyrocketing because I was only moments away from speaking in front of a group of people. But my apple watch had no idea and it was concerned for my health. I mean, after all I was just standing still yet my heart rate was suddenly unusually high. I stifled a laugh as I showed the sound guy my notification. As I looked back up to the front of the room while I was being introduced, I took a quick second to take a deep breath, and redirected my brain away from the nervousness and back to thinking calmly and rationally.
Is it that easy? Can you simply redirect your brain to calm your nerves when you’re about to speak or present to a group of people? Well, let’s take a look at how the brain works.
When examining the brain, we find two small, almond-shaped regions, called the amygdala. These clusters of neurons are known for processing fear and triggering the fight or flight response. When the amygdala kicks in, we have trouble thinking straight, our heart rate goes up, we feel our palms get sweaty, and all those other unpleasant responses our body naturally makes when we are nervous.
This is helpful in life threatening situations. However, when we present, fear and nervousness are the last things we want to feel. Rather, we want to feel confident and have the ability to think clearly. When we present, we want to be fully functioning out of the frontal lobe.
As the name suggests, the frontal lobe is located at the front of your brain, just behind your forehead. This part of the brain is what allows you to think clearly and logically. The frontal lobe is responsible for speech production and facial expressions. More specifically, the prefrontal cortex, which is housed at the very front part of the frontal lobe, is responsible for high level thinking. This includes the ability to make decisions, implement self-control, focus your attention, analyze a situation, and so on. One aspect of our prefrontal cortex that is especially important while we present is the ability to use memory and stored information. It allows you to recall the content and details of your presentation as you are communicating to your audience.
The goal is to fully engage your frontal lobe during your presentations and speaking engagements so that you can communicate clearly and effectively. So the question is, how can we shift our brain activity from the amygdala back to the frontal lobe? Or in layman's terms, how do we get our brains from freaking out to cool and collected?
Let me introduce you to this simple, yet powerful tool that will switch your brain from the fight or flight mentality back to your logical frontal lobe. I have used it when I need to calm my nerves and focus before speaking in front of a group of people. I also use it in interpersonal relationships. If I’m angry with my spouse or child, it helps me to readjust my thinking so I don’t say something unkind in the heat of the moment. It has also been an incredible tool for kids to calm down and think when they are upset.
The 3, 2, 1 Focus tool is a short, three step process that forces your mind to think practically by using your senses and powers of observation. As you focus your brain on engaging your frontal lobe with this three step process, your frontal lobe will communicate with the amygdala, telling it to calm down. This will allow your frontal lobe to gain back control so that you can think clearly and logically.
Here are the steps for 3, 2, 1 Focus:
3) Look around your environment and list three objects that you see.
2) Listen closely and pick out two distinct sounds that you hear.
1) Take a deep breath through your nose and identify one scent that you smell.
This tool does a couple things in relation to your brain. As you go through the steps, your amygdala begins realizing that there is no true, life-threatening danger and can begin calming down. This tool also starts engaging different areas of the brain, working from the back to the front. Using the sense of sight engages the occipital lobe at the back of your brain. Then by using your sense of hearing, the temporal lobe, which is located more in the middle of your brain, becomes engaged. Finally, by using the sense of smell and identifying the smell, you finish moving your brain activity up to the frontal lobe.
By taking a deep breath and focusing on the world around you through a moment of stillness and the use of your senses, you will feel much more grounded. Your amygdala will calm down, shifting you out of survival mode. Your brain activity will re-engage your frontal lobe.
This is what I did when I was in the winery, to help lower my heart rate. First, I looked around the room and listed three things that I saw: wine glasses, a guitar, and strings of lightbulbs hanging from the ceiling. Then, I listened closely, hearing the sound of a phone chime on my left and the sound of someone shifting in their chair on my right. Finally, I closed my eyes and took a deep breath through my nose. I could vaguely catch the sweet scent of flowers just outside the open door behind me. As I opened my eyes, my name was announced over the speakers. Smiling, I walked to the front, excited and ready to speak.
So the next time you present in front of a group of people, take a moment to 3, 2, 1 Focus so that you can present with people and not at people.
By Caitlyn Neel - Content Director & Personal Growth Coach