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Fight or Flight are NOT Your Only Options

I’m not sure where or when I heard it... probably in the few psychology classes I took in college, or in casual conversations with friends. The phrase “fight or flight” was ingrained in my mind as the only option us “animals” have when faced with a challenging situation. In Core Energy Coaching™ school I learned that we humans have many more choices than fight or flight. In fact, if “fight or flight” are your only options, you'll live a short and miserable life.

Fight or flight is a response to a harmful threat or attack. When faced with this attack, we react. In Core Energy Coaching™ iPEC (Institution for Professional Excellence in Coaching) has identified seven options for every situation… including attacks. Before I cover these other options, it may be helpful to explain why flight or fight will damage you physically and psychologically, if you continually use these two options.

In Core Energy Coaching™ flight is defined as “victim” energy. This attitude has the highest form of catabolic energy. Fight is defined as “conflict” energy and has the second highest form of catabolic energy. Catabolic energy is good to use in utter emergencies and serves animals well in the wild kingdom. However, this energy will destroy you physically and mentally if this is all you use. In our human world this destruction shows up mentally as “burn out” and physically as “illness”.

What are Your Other Options?

We’ve covered Level 1 – Victim with a core thought of “I lose” (flight); and Level 2 – Conflict with a core thought of “I win, you lose” (fight). The remaining options are anabolic. Anabolic energy builds you up over time and rebuilds the destruction caused by catabolic energy.

Level 3 – Acceptance has a core thought of “I win…”. In the “fight or flight” vernacular it may be called “freeze” in the reaction to a threat. However, when used intentionally, it is a way to avoid unpleasantness that is unavoidable.

Level 4 – Compassion has a core thought of “You win”. Can you imagine taking pity on your attacker and trying to help him/her? This is what compassion is. You turn the table on this perspective of adversarial; and help the other person.

Level 5 – Opportunity has a core thought of “Win/Win”. What if both sides can benefit from each other? This is what opportunists seek. They know that if each side can find a win, then that relationship is sustainable for the long run. This is the thought I help most of my business owner clients achieve to find success in business.

Level 6 – Synergy has a core thought of “Everyone wins”. You are looking beyond yourself and the other person at this point. You are considering broad implications of your actions and crafting solutions that benefit a broader community.

Level 7 – Total Awareness has a core thought of “Winning and losing don’t matter”. At first this sounds apathetic. Instead, it is a way to disconnect yourself from outcome; and focus on creating. In fight or flight, you are engaged in protection mode. You’re protecting your ego… your life… and trying to survive. At Level 7, these emergency thoughts are far from your mind. You’re in a space of contemplation and creation.

Is Your Energy Your Choice?

As you read through these levels, you may get the impression that each Core Energy™ level is a response to environment. The higher energy levels naturally happen when someone is at ease. This is the lie that many who are in “fight or flight” mode believe.

In my coaching experience, I’ve noticed that people who tend to react have created a habit of reacting. Instead of “fight or flight”, people tend to pick their favorite reaction. A reactionary individual often always picks “fight” (conflict) or always picks “flight” (victim).

This same habit can be shifted to a higher level.

Choosing a Higher Level: An Example

Let me take one of the most contentious emotional triggers in our modern day… POLITICS.

Let’s say that you plan to go home for Thanksgiving Dinner; and you will face a family who have polar-opposite political views than you. In years past, Thanksgiving Dinner has always ended in a political fight. Some years, you tried to stand your ground and fight for your political viewpoint. Other years, you walked away when politically polarizing topics emerged.

What if this year, you plan to pick Level 4 or Level 5? Level 4 may include listening to the benefits of the topic that your family members bring up. You may point out the merits to their arguments. At Level 5, you may consider how both sides can benefit from a specific political debate. Let’s take energy. On one side of the political debate, adherents are concerned over climate-change that can harm the planet. On the other side of this same debate, adherents are concerned about gas prices and unemployment. If you acknowledge and validate the other side then pose a question, “What if there were a way to improve the economy while we implement less polluting energy technologies?”

What about the other side?

There’s always intransigence other side. You may be loving and kind; but the others will still be mean and critical. Right? Wrong. Many are in the habit of fighting or criticizing. In some cases, we call these folks narcissists. If you truly attempt to achieve the higher levels I’ve described, you’ll always “acknowledge and validate” the other side’s argument. This automatically takes Level 1 (victim) or Level 2 (conflict) off the table. It signals to the other side that you are seeking higher ground in your discussion. This signaling almost ALWAYS shifts the other side to this higher level.

It's Simple, but Not Easy

It is our human nature to try to prove our case; and disprove the other side’s perspective. Attaining these higher energy levels is NOT easy. You must be deliberate about how you treat other people… and understand that this higher ground will result in a much better life for you and others.

A good analogy is diet and exercise. We know that we will be healthier if we eat right and exercise. However, such eating and exercise are not built into our human nature. We must get up early to go to the gym. We must develop a taste for healthy foods.

Where the diet and exercise analogy break down is that you don’t have a difficult human being on the other side of your diet and exercise routines. To eat right and exercise, the only obstacle you must overcome is yourself.

Intention vs Reaction

The best way to increase your own energy level is to substitute intention for reaction. When you will be put in a difficult situation, plan ahead. As corny as it sounds, role-playing is a great way to practice positive and encouraging actions. In the business world, us business coaches implore our clients to create business plans. Why? Because when you have a plan and bad stuff starts happening, you know what to do without resorting to damaging emotional reactions. Likewise, you will know what to do when you are more successful than you had planned.

Climb the Ladder

It is common when I coach my clients that they claim they have no other option but to fight or fly. If this is you, there’s a tool I use with my clients that you can use with yourself. It’s called the Climbing the Ladder exercise. To climb the ladder, you must create thoughts and feelings at each run of the Core Energy™ ladder. Force yourself to describe your situation at Level 1 up to Level 7. You will notice your thoughts and feelings elevating as you climb higher on the ladder. At the end of this exercise, you select the level that you’d most like to act at. Very rarely, will you ever select Level 1 or Level 2.


I hope that you’ve learned that you have many more choices than “fight or flight”; and that those higher energy level choices will help your physical and mental health.


About me. I have been actively engaged in the energy efficiency, renewable energy, and energy conservation industry all my professional career from 1987 until now. I was a licensed Professional Engineering in six states and a Certified Energy Manager (CEM). I worked as a sales executive, energy engineer, sales manager, and entrepreneur. I started, grew, and sold my own Energy Service Company (ESCo) called Ennovate Corporation (1997 to 2013). I am now a certified professional business coach for business owners, engineers, and business development executives.



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