There was this one particular cartoon gag that drove me crazy as a kid. For some reason there were a bunch of cartoons where the hero would run down the train track with the train approaching.
I always found myself yelling at the TV: “Get off the track!” It seemed so obvious to me that running down the track with the train speeding toward you was a truly dumb thing to do.
Although I still feel that way, I have much more understanding these days of how human that behavior really is. We all do this. We keep running down the path we know won’t work for us. We don’t step off the track. We don’t try something new. We let the fear of something new keep us from trying it.
Beyond the psychology of all this, there is actually a bunch of biology. Know what happens when you get scared? Your system floods you with adrenaline. Adrenaline does all sorts of things to help you gear up for the big scary threat (think rhino charging you!). A couple of the more intriguing ones that might relate directly to the running down the train track analogy are:
You lose your peripheral vision and see only a tunnel right in front of you…um, like the railroad track.
Your hearing shuts down, probably to keep you from being distracted from running.
Blood flows to the muscles and away from other parts of the body. That, along with increased muscle tension, makes you faster and stronger, although still not faster than a train.
So with all that going on, it is truly possible that, as a human, you may be too caught up in the adrenaline to stop trying to outrun the train and just step off the track.
With all that going on, one of the thing that bewilders me these days is why we do this to ourselves on purpose. Scary movies, passion around sports, action adventures, video games…all things that bring about these responses.
We put ourselves through the adrenaline rush for the endorphins that follow.
And we have choices about how much we engage in. We can even choose to step off or stay on the track. We can choose whether or not to willingly put ourselves in some of these situations.
Some of them we are pretty much stuck with: The crazy driver zooming next to you. The loud, unexpected noise. The screech of brakes.
Check it out. See where you are stuck on a train track. See what might happen if you just step off the track, even for a moment. What changes? What can you see or hear that you didn’t notice? What is possible if you just do this a bit differently?