July | Nervous System Mapping

“I don’t have a nervous system, I am a nervous system.”

In my recent session with my own coach, we discussed the topic of mapping out the characteristics of my nervous system. The intention was to get a better understanding of why I don’t afford myself extended downtime and rest, even when I have the available time in parts of my week or month. The approach was based on polyvagal theory, an experimental theory that attempts to help people explain their choices based on their nervous system states.

If we apply an athlete’s mindset to high performance at work, we know that rest and recovery are a critical part of an athlete’s workout regime, just as much as the drills and games. I learned that even when I do have an opportunity to rest and slow down, my nervous system wants to stay activated as if I’m trying to stay alert for the rhythm and pace that I’ve been running at up until this point.

In working with my coach, I realized that when I encounter a bit of a slow down my brain will start looking for ways to get stimulated: reading an article, browsing LinkedIn, checking my emails for new ones, asking how my co-workers/clients are doing, checking out my calendars to anticipate what I’m going to look forward to next, flipping through 1,000 Instagram stories, etc.

Briefly, the practice that I am building on now is to first notice that I’m actually avoiding the nervous system rest. Second, I then stay just a little bit longer in the discomfort of being inactive (or not wearing the badge of honour of “busy”), until the discomfort dissipates. It’s akin to having a back muscle seize up temporarily if you try to get up too fast (maybe you’ll only relate to this if you’re in your late 30s like me, mind you, so find your own metaphor, Gen Zs!), but if you wait long enough, that muscle does indeed relax.

Journal Prompts

  • What are your nervous system’s habits and needs?
  • What would be possible if you gave your nervous system more frequent and/or longer breaks?

Further Reading

Psychology Today: Polyvagal Theory: How Your Nervous System Works

Movement Paradigm: How to Map Your Own Nervous System

What’s on Repeat

Songs we can’t get enough of:

Today’s edition of the L@S Newsletter was composed by Alvin Pilobello. Alvin is a professional coach, salsa dance instructor, and former water engineer. He has a passion for what makes the world go around: water, dance, and connection. He helps people make sense of the diversity within others and themselves to encourage connection and develop innovative, systems-based (vs. linear) approaches to working relationship challenges.

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