Updated: Jul 31, 2020
It starts early in life. Likely even before kindergarten, but that just happens to be the first time I remember the bell.
A lot like Pavlov’s Dog, humans react to stimuli, also known as a 'conditional reflex.'
Do you remember the first day of school? That was the day the ground rules were set. They established structure and order. We were taught, when the bell rings, we sit down in our seats. When the bell rings again, we get lunch.
The bell told us when to sit, be silent, line up, use the restroom, eat, play, and prepare for departure.
Now don’t get me wrong. I am in no way arguing against structure and rules. I couldn’t imagine being a teacher to ten to twenty children. Heck, I can’t even keep up with the two I have.
However, we find that the conditioning with the bell continues throughout life.
Just think about it. We finally settle into a nice deep sleep to be abruptly startled awake by an alarm bell. For the most part, we don’t allow our body to say “Hey, I’m tired. Time for a nap.” or to wake from rest naturally. Instead, we "alarm" or scare ourselves awake. Who's idea was that anyway?
We do our life’s work guided by the bell.
The bell on a calendar reminds us that it’s time for another call.
The bell in a factory that indicates a rotation of some sort.
The bell on our phones that indicate we need to respond in some way… email, text, social media.
Hell, we even wait for a bell to indicate there is enough space in our day to take a break.
This past week, I shared the above thoughts with a client during a lunch session. It wasn’t even two hours later when I dialed into a meeting with a co-worker. We jumped on the virtual call together and without much thought to it, I asked her to give me a few minutes; I needed to run to the restroom.
I think I was caught off guard when she excitedly exclaimed, “Oh, Angie! I am so glad you said that! I need one too!” When we made it back to the call, I told her of the almost immediate evidence she provided me from the conversation I had just had two hours before. Why didn't she just tell me SHE needed a break? Because... there were no bells in place. No natural break that comes with being in a structured setting that says "If I'm not at my desk, I must be unavailable, but I'm in the office building so that means I am working."
After that conversation, I took time to watch for evidence of this conditioned programming and what was happening as a result of… well, 2020 as a whole. We all know that there have been entirely too many events this year to capture them all here.
However, if we simply start with the pandemic as an example, it was as if our bells were abruptly taken away. The systems and structures that we had been conditioned to operate within and around were no longer there. Some people found a way to create their own, but many of the people I’ve talked to feel incredibly stressed and overwhelmed by this new lack of structure.
Just using the restroom break example; why are we not comfortable saying “Hey, I need you to hold on a minute, my body is signaling to me that I need to take care of it”? Okay, maybe you don’t have to say all of that out loud, but we definitely should be listening to our own internal bell and be willing to say “I’ll be right back. Because:
“Ding! I need a bathroom break!”
“Ding! I am hungry. I should eat something!”
“Ding! My body is craving movement, sunlight, fresh air.”
"Ding! I need to get out and drive around for a bit.”
"Ding! I just need a moment to breathe!"
If 2020 has taught us anything it is that the systems and structures that once worked well may no longer serve us in the same way. It has also taught that the only one that can truly keep you healthy, safe, and happy is You.
It’s time to reprogram ourselves to react to our internal stimulus.
If this resonates with you, I would ask you to share it with others. Together, we will no longer allow ourselves to be conditioned to respond to the external bell, but the one within… our own body and spirit which is always guiding us; telling us what we need, moment by moment. And we must have the strength and courage to stand up for our well-being.