My Journey With TBI: The Life Saving Process (Emotions and Culture)

When Dr. Hughes and I reviewed my first WAVI brain scan he pointed out the remarkable inconsistencies he was seeing.

The expansive blue area around my brain image indicated the presence of traumatic brain injury (TBI) and the dormant nature of the part of the brain that is responsible for processing emotions. Yet, the red area of the brain image indicated my brain was in the perfect Alpha state; calm, alert, and ready to think, decide, and act. These were two conflicting indicators of brain function, he explained. The inability to properly process emotions should not lead to a calm and alert Alpha brain state.

Additionally, my brain and heart waves were in perfect sync. An indication, he said, of someone who is reflective and self-aware. A great quality, but again, wholly inconsistent with someone who has essentially lost the ability to process their emotions.  

As we discussed the results of my WAVI scan, I talked about my experience and practice with the Wim Hof Method and how it focuses on cold exposure, breathing, and mindset. I also briefly explained the formation of my leadership philosophy, The Ice Cold Leader Process, and how it begins with a focus around awareness of emotions and the actions they drive. I call these elements of my leadership process “Emotional Awareness and Recognition” and “Cultural Awareness and Recognition”.

In other words, emotions drive our actions and our actions, for better or worse, make up our culture. Without an awareness of our emotions, we have little to no control over the actions we take. And since, in my view, culture is made up of the things we do, and not the labels we put on them, we will subsequently have no control over the culture we make for ourselves.

“That explains it,” Dr. Hughes said. “That is how you basically saved your own life. At best, these injuries should have led you to a very dark place. At worst, you should be a statistic. You are neither. You are a highly functioning individual who has fought through the effects of a brain injury you did not even know you had. Let’s take you to the next level of healing.”

The statistic Dr. Hughes was referring to are the 22 veterans a day that commit suicide based on injuries like mine that lead them to very dark places of hopelessness. This was a jolting commentary because I knew of the dark places he was referring to. I knew them all too well, but I somehow managed to avoid getting entirely and hopelessly sucked into them.

The reason I avoided getting immersed in these dark places is because, after I left the SEAL Teams, I began an intensive process of reflection to understand why I made some of the reckless decisions I was prone to making and, on the other end of the spectrum, why I was able to achieve such success in the most challenging of circumstances.

This reflection made clear to me that emotions were at the root of every action I took, both good and bad. The difference was, however, that when I was aware of and acknowledged my emotions, I was in control of the action the emotion drove. When I was not aware of the emotion, and subsequently failed to consciously acknowledge it, I was not in control of the action the emotion drove.

Further reflection on this fact led to an obvious observation. I was able to link my good decisions with the ability to be aware of and recognize the emotion I was feeling before I acted. Essentially, I was able to make a conscious decision on how I should act despite my emotion. Predictably, conscious decisions led to good outcomes regardless of the emotion that preceded the action.

And, of course, the opposite was true. When I simply let my unacknowledged emotion drive my action, my action was random and unpredictable and so was the outcome.

I was lucky!

I was lucky to have loved being a Navy SEAL with every fiber of my being.

I was lucky I loved being a leader.

I was lucky that the pain of having to leave something I loved so much forced me into this reflection.

Without this awareness around emotions and the actions they drive, aka culture, I am certain that bottomless pit of despair would have consumed me eventually.

To be continued…

Errol Doebler is the founder of Ice Cold Leader, a leadership consulting firm. After successful careers as a Navy SEAL Platoon Commander and FBI Special Agent, Errol founded Ice Cold Leader to realize his passion of empowering great leaders and better human beings. Errol provides executive coachingkeynote speaking, and corporate retreats to individuals and teams across the world.

Please take a moment to read and sign Errol’s petition bringing awareness to a new naturally healing treatment for traumatic brain injury here. Every signature counts!

Errol is hosting a FREE Leadership Workshop on Tuesday September 21st at 3pm EST. The workshop is designed for all levels of leader in every field of endeavor who want to level up and become the best version of themselves. Secure your spot here.

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