My Favorite Idea of 2017

There was one idea in 2017 that completely knocked my socks off.

It’s so simple, yet SO powerful.

It’s something none of us ever learned about in school.

It’s based on Dr. Stephen Porges’ Polyvagal Theory and it’s revolutionizing the field of psychology.

Dr. Porges has done amazing research with infant heart beat and nervous system and over time learned that:

At the core of human relationships is a quest for safety.

When we don’t feel safe, we can go into 2 flavors of defense mode:

1. We can turn our dial up, into fight or flight (let’s call this reaction ‘red zone’)

2. We can turn our dial down, and go flat, sort of like how a mouse plays dead in the jaws of a predator ( let’s call this ‘blue zone’)

Both of these responses affect our ability to engage successfully with others.

When we feel emotionally safe (‘green zone’), this opens the doors for social engagement, whether it’s with your kids, your partner, your friends, or colleagues.

Emotional safety is the secret to social success and teamwork.

It affects everyone, even highly effective teams at Google, according to this fascinating Washington Post article.

Mammals (such as we are) need to feel safe, both consciously and unconsciously, to interact well with others. According to Porges:

Your social behavior impacts others’ physical states.

To help people feel safe, and not go into defense mode, you need to provide 3 important cues that you’re a safe human:

  1. Positive facial expressions (i.e. not flat)
  2. Melodic intonations with your voice (i.e. not monotone)
  3. Inviting gestures (i.e. not closed off)

Do you know how many flat, monotone engineers and their reactive partners I work with in Seattle? It’s the most common marital ‘dance’ I see! And the more flat one gets, the more reactive the other gets, and vice versa.

We change the dance by bringing awareness to the dynamic and shifting our cues and reactions toward emotional safety.

Simple, but not easy.

How to use this in your own life, starting now:

  • When meeting and interacting with people, focus on bringing safe, positive, ‘green zone’ energy rather than being on the defensive or waiting for what energy the other person will bring. Be responsible for the energy you bring into the room. If you have any doubts about this, watch this unforgettable TED talk.
  • If you tend to go into the red zone when you feel stressed or threatened by getting intense, yelling, hyper texting or reacting in other big ways (think angry pit bull), practice taking a time out to calm yourself down and manage your face, tone and gestures that may feel unsafe to others. Let’s face it, you already stop yourself in public, so you already know how to do this.
  • If you tend to go into the blue zone when you feel stressed or threatened, by becoming a blank slate, flat or monotone (think turtle going into its shell), then take a time out, and recognize how this flatness signals threat to others and change your face, tone and gestures to signal safety. It will feel unnatural at first. That’s normal.
  • You may have a person in your life who is constantly in defense mode. This is common with certain diagnoses like Autism (and formerly Aspergers) and with trauma survivors. Creating a safe environment and teaching them how to create and communicate safety for themselves is critical. Start with safety, not social skills.

I’m starting 2018 with the goal of bringing more conscious green zone energy to my interactions with others. I know it won’t always be easy.

Will you join me? I’d love to hear from you. Let me know your thoughts at

Warmest wishes for a safe and engaged 2018,