Are you living above the line or below the line?

What I am about to write is likely only going to make sense to you if you also watch this short 3 min and 35 second video called Locating Yourself-  A Key to Conscious Leadership.  Trust me, it is worth the 3 minutes of your time.  The video is directed towards leaders, which you are! 


From the Video: 

The idea is to ask yourself on a regular basis, “Where am I?”  People operating above the line are open, curious, and committed to learning.  People below the line are defensive, closed, and committed to being right.


My Thoughts:

It is the last statement that catches my attention the most.  I once heard a speaker at a seminar say, “You can be right or you can be happy, but you can’t be both.”  I also remember thinking at the time, “Yes, I can be both happy and right.”  While it may be true that I can be happy and right at the same time, at times,I know better understand what the speaker was getting at with his statement. 


In those moments when an argument occurs, or when someone does something that is upsetting, we tend to circle around and around in our own minds all of the reasons why we were “right”, and maybe we were right.  BUT, every moment of time we spend thinking about the situation that was upsetting to us, we continue to flood our bodies with the corresponding set of bio-chemicals and create physiological stress within our bodies.  The argument may have taken 5 minutes, the days or weeks we spent thinking about the argument and thinking about all of the reasons we were ‘right’, keeps us from being happy.


Back to the Video:

People below the line often feel like there is not enough.  There is not enough time, money, love, energy, space, or anything.  They often feel as if there is a continual threat to their approval, control, or security.  They tend to cling to opinions, find fault and blame, and gossip.


People above the line believe learning and growing are more important than anything else, from a distance everything can be funny, speak unarguably, listen deeply, question life’s beliefs, self-reflect, and play.  They are also creative.


My Thoughts:

This is not about judging others for their location relative to the line.  This is about becoming more self-aware of YOUR location.  I believe most of us bounce back and forth from below the line to above the line.  The amount of time we spend in each location varies greatly from one person to the next. When we spend time above the line our inner battery reserves are charged up, and we feel satisfied, fulfilled, and generally love life.   


When we are operating below the line, we are depleting our inner battery.  We feel drained, stressed, frustrated, overwhelmed, and we tend to hold a more negative outlook on life in general.


Back to the video:

Our brain is programmed to perceive threat.  When it does a chemical cocktail courses through our veins and we go below the line. This reaction was designed to protect us in the presence of a threat to our physical survival.  


My thoughts: 

For those of you who study or follow the field of neuroscience, you know that this is true.  Our brains are programmed to detect threat.  In fact, our brains number one priority is to keep us alive.  In Bessel van der Kolk’s book, “The Body Keeps the Score”, he likens the amygdala to a smoke detector.  It is always searching for a potential threat.  When it detects a threat, it initiates our internal stress response system and our body is flooded with the stress hormones, and our fight/flight response can become initiated.  Dr. Bruce Perry would say our brain state of arousal has changed, and we are now in the alarm/fear/terror brain state.  Once this happens, we are no longer using our full executive functioning capacity.  In other words, we are now operating “below the line”.


I love this short video because it is precise and to the point.  Even though it is less than three and half minutes long, it could potentially open the doorway to a much longer discussion.  What this video does not do is give any direction as to HOW to move from below the line to above the line.  For that, we must turn to other sources.


Both Perry and Van der Kolk refer to three basic avenues for self-regulation.  One is the top down approach, thinking and talking through the process.  Another approach is the bottom up avenue, which is done by creating somatosensory experiences that are safe, predictable, patterned, and repetitive.  The final avenue is through medication to help alleviate the symptoms or the intensity of symptoms.  


For more information from Dr. Perry and Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, I would suggest you check out their books.  These books are not ‘light’ reads, but they are packed with a wealth of information. Dr. Perry’s book, The Boy Raised as a Dog, comes with a study guide in the back of the book.  I have both the kindle version and the audio version of The Body Keeps the Score.  It is easier for me to listen while driving back and forth to work, but I do like to come back to the kindle version to highlight key points so that I can reference them later.  Now that I have discovered the world of audio books, I am loving it!


Final Thought: