It fires up the sympathetic nervous system and automatically gives us the energy to defend ourselves by speeding up our breathing and heart rate. It does this by triggering the release of the hormones of adrenalin and cortisol into our body. This “conflict cocktail” may have helped our cave dwelling ancestors escape predators, but it doesn’t help us much in a struggle with an employee about on-time attendance, a boss who would rather command than collaborate or a colleague who firmly disagrees with us in a meeting. In fact, in moments of persistent disagreement, we can raise each other’s heart rate from a calm, sitting rate of 80 beats per minute to as high as 130 beats per minute, in one beat.
This occurs without our Rider noticing. We think we’re fine in the moment, but we actually can't listen to others in such an aroused state. The circuits in our pre-frontal cortex become overloaded with negative reactions and our Rider is forced out of the present and back onto deeply learned habits of reactive talk. What's worse is that over time these flight-fight reaction surges can damage our bodily organs.
The only way to get your Rider to focus on the moment is to calm the Elephant’s emotional responses and our body’s regulation (fight-flight, rest-digest) systems. The oldest and most powerful way into our self-regulation system is through the breath. To be present in the next moment we need to take a deep, conscious breath. We must consciously take over one of the things the Elephant controls automatically: our breathing.