Let’s Get Flexible: How To Self-Regulate by Building Your Response Flexibility

The science is out there, and to our advantage, it’s becoming more refined with each passing year. I’m referring to brain science— particularly the type that explains Emotional Intelligence and illustrates why Self-Regulation works. If you’ve read my recent article Don’t Flip Your Lid, you earned yourself a little introduction to the regions of the brain and how they interact to create your emotional responses. You also may have discovered how important it is to be aware of any toxicity in your emotional state if you want to prevent your own amygdala hijacks in the workplace.

Did you know there is a practical way for you to apply these brain science basics and see real results? It’s called building your Response Flexibility, which can be considered a fancy way of describing how to bring yourself “back online” in moments of tension, before you flip out in front of colleagues. In this way, Response Flexibility increases your Self-Regulation because it strengthens the homeostasis of your central nervous system. This means it creates a balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems, which equates to a balance in your personality. Let’s look at a couple of ways to get your Response Flexibility into gear, starting today.


In mid-April, I posted an article about Going Inward, which served as an introduction to Self-Awareness as achieved through meditation practices. The beauty of this type of meditation is that it’s related to your emotions, getting you in-touch with the physical effects of emotional stress before you react.

Think about the first thing you feel when you become stressed. Surprise? Nausea? A tightness in the back of your throat? Then think about some of the outward signs of that stress. Do you clench you fists? Do you give off toxic vibes? Here’s a good one: Do you hold your breath, like I do, when you’re stressed? It turns out this is one that many folks can relate to. It’s also the most advantageous one to correct.


Consider this: One minute spent connected to your breathing is more than enough to reset your nervous system! I experienced this first-hand during the course led by Linda Graham called The Neuroscience of Wellbeing. Additionally, “Affectionate Breathing” is an exercise designed by Neff and Germer of The Center For Mindful Self-Compassion, which you should take a minute to check out:

Set your timer for 1 minute.

Sit comfortably; breathe slowly and gently.

Incline your awareness toward your breathing with tenderness and curiosity.

Let the body breathe itself; notice the natural nourishing and soothing of the body.

Feel the whole body breathe.

Allow the body to be gently rocked by the breath.

Savor the stillness and peace in the body.

Furthermore, one breath can make all the difference when it comes to self-regulating. Think of a breath as a gift of “the magic quarter second”. In neuroscientific terms, scientist and researcher Benjamin Libet discovered in the 20th century that the part of the brain responsible for movement activates a quarter-second before we become aware of our intention to move. There is then another quarter-second before the movement begins. This means that before we make a conscious decision, our brain has already set the gears in motion, like seeing the lightening and then predicting the thunder!

On another level, this information offers us an opportunity. Viktor Frankl summed it up poetically when he said, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”


Your sympathetic nervous system reacts to a sense of danger, and it was probably what saved your distant ancestors from predators in a much different world. But when we apply this science to the idea that we as modern humans are hard-wired to be connected, something magical is revealed.

There’s research to back up how important physical touch is to feeling accepted and safe. So, why not self-regulate the sympathetic nervous system by increasing touch? Here are four examples of touch that have proven to be effective in improving your Response Flexibility. I bet you can find a way to practice them daily:

Hugs: And I’m referring to full-body contact, 20-second-long hugs….the kind you would engage in with a beloved family member or a dear friend. 4 hugs per day is mandatory for increased Response Flexibility. 8 is optimal. 12 hugs and you’ll thrive! Hugging your pet has been shown to be effective as well.

Vagus Nerve Stimulation: Did you know you can activate the release of oxytocin with a simple and discreet self-massage? The Vagus Nerve, which is the longest nerve in the body, is directly connected to your emotional well-being. You can stimulate it by giving yourself a head massage at the back of the skull where it meets the neck, or by massaging the front of your neck where you feel your pulse. You’ll be sending good vibes through your sympathetic nervous system and no one will notice what you’re up to!

A Hand on the Heart: Simply placing your hand over your heart puts the brakes on your survival response and settles down your heart rate. I discovered this move during the same Linda Graham presentation at a neuroscience and well-being at retreat, and I’m loving the results.