State Is Everything. Wait, What Is State?

May 12, 2021

By Dr. Lance Einerson

Your nervous system is the master of your experience; that doesn’t make you unique, though. Every single other person walking around with a nervous system is in the same situation. What that DOESN’T mean is that everyone has the same experience. Two people who woke up at the same time at the same breakfast and went to the same job can have very different experiences.

Here’s an example. You walk into the gym, and the last 12 hours or so have gone really well. You had a meaningful conversation with your significant other and removed some barriers from your relationship that were holding you back as a couple. Work is going well, and you’re excited about the workout your coach has programmed for the day, even though it’s not exactly in your wheelhouse.

Contrast that with walking into the gym after fighting with your significant other that left you wondering whether or not your relationship was going to survive the week. On top of that, you’re overwhelmed with work, and no matter what you do, it feels like everything you touch is going off of the rails. That’s when you see wall balls are in the workout. You hate wall balls, and now the gym, the one place you hoped to find relief, is going to add to your proverbial beatdown.

All things being equal (sleep, hydration, recovery, nutrition), which version of you do you think will perform better?

No question, it will be the first one.

But why?

Intuitively we know that the happy, fulfilled version of any human will perform better than the hopeless beatdown version.

I ask again, why?

The answer is simple.


Your state is the summation of the mental, emotional, and physical variables in your life. It’s the way you’re manifesting yourself in the moment.

The easiest way to see this is in your nervous system because it’s the master, and it doesn’t lie.

The fight or flight response is a perfect example.

You cross paths with a momma bear and her cubs in the woods. She stands up on her hind legs and growls right before she comes down on all fours and starts moving towards you with her teeth bared and a rumble coming from her chest so deep and menacing that you’re unsure whether it’s coming from her or deep within the earth.

What happens within your body in this moment?

Your heart rate and blood pressure will go through the roof. Your breathing will increase in both rate and depth. Your vision will narrow, as will your mental focus. Your thoughts will be filled with worst-case scenarios as well as ways to avoid them. Adrenaline will course through your veins, and it will give you courage as well as pain suppression as you attempt to make your getaway.

That is an example of being in a highly aroused state. You’ll notice that the state I described above comes with not only physical but mental and emotional changes as well. In other words, it’s not just about your body.

It’s all of you.

The same can be said of low states of arousal as well.

One of the most important skills we can learn as human beings is the ability to transition across different states seamlessly. Our lives, especially in modern society, require us to meet specific demands at various levels of arousal all day long.

The trouble for most people is that they end up getting stuck in a particular state for significantly longer than they should be. For example, if someone pulls out in front of you on your way to work, you may have an uptick in arousal. It’s ok for your mind and body to prepare for an accident/help you react quickly enough to avoid it. What’s not ok is to carry that state of hostility and aggression into the office and force your coworkers to endure the mistakes of a stranger and your ineptitude to deal with it.

The beauty of state, though, is that it’s not something set in stone. You don’t have to be a slave to your past responses. You can become highly skillful at transitioning between different levels of arousal, between different states. You can literally show up as the optimal version of yourself at will.

The first step is recognizing what it feels like physically, mentally, and emotionally to shift states. The video below will help you get started. During the activity in the video, pay close attention to both the sensations you feel in your body and the emotions and thoughts that come to your mind.

As soon as you finish the activity, take a few minutes to write down what you felt. Once you’ve clearly articulated your experience, ask yourself if your response during the exercise contains any similarities to your responses has when you become stressed or overwhelmed out in the real world.

Are there any common threads?

My money says that there are common threads. Some of them may be good, and some of them may be bad. The point is that you’re taking the time and intentionally digging deep enough to find out whether or not you’re proud of the way you’re handling yourself.