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Avoiding the Christmas Lobotomy


What on earth made you think your wife wanted that?

Christmas can be a time of terror and panic for many men. I hate to stereotype, but it appears that few male executives have either the time or the inclination for Christmas shopping. Many don’t have any real insight into what their wife really wants as their special Christmas gift. Some even delegate the task to their PAs. It is not uncommon for hordes of men to find themselves in a lingerie shop at 4:45pm on Christmas Eve.

Faced with the desperate need to get something, anything, for their significant other, they dash into that little shop of horrors – the lingerie shop. The horror is not because of the beautiful products that such shops sell but because of the experience that awaits them. As they stare at the racks realising that the better gifts have gone, unbeknownst to them, their biology has kicked in and not in the way that you might think. At a biological level, they are in chaos. More specifically their heart rate is fluctuating erratically between 60-80bpm. It’s rather akin to the needle on seismometer during an earthquake. These chaotic physiological messages travel from the heart to the brain via the vagus nerve causing a shutdown of the front of the brain. This is known in the trade a cortical inhibition or if you prefer a DIY lobotomy.

As the male executive gets closer to closing time on Christmas Eve, the loss of frontal lobe function becomes more profound and the likelihood of buying something wildly inappropriate increases. As many women will testify, opening the package on Xmas morning to discover some inappropriate item of lingerie is bad enough. Then discovering it’s not even in the right size begs the question – who does my husband think he’s been married to all these years?

The best way to avoid the Christmas lobotomy is be aware of the likelihood of brain shutdown under pressure far enough in advance to avoid the problem entirely. Sadly, if you leave things too late you will almost inevitably lobotomise yourself. As a result, at best your wife will open something that needs to be taken back and at worse it may cause a full-blown row.  

My advice? Two strategies:

  1. Long term planning is the best way to avoid the brain doesn’t shut down after last minute pressure. Ask your wife much earlier in the year the kind of things she likes. You could even ask your wife’s friends for tips and guidance so you don’t fall foul of a disastrous Christmas lobotomy.

  2. If you haven’t had the forethought to plan ahead and you find yourself in the lingerie department at 4:45pm Christmas Eve, remember this:

    1. Breathe rhythmically and evenly to ensure the signal between your heart and your brain is coherent and keeps your frontal lobs on. This can prevent you from descending into panic.
    2. Ensure your emotional state is positive not negative. We can all learn to control our own emotional state. Make sure you are ‘response-able’, harnessing a positive emotional state and able to respond rather than reacting to the stress of the situation in front of you.

If you do these things you’ll have a fighting chance of your brain working. In that physiological and emotional state, there is a chance that the realisation will come to you that there is a second lingerie store just around the corner that might be more appropriate to your wife’s needs.

That’s my Christmas gift to all you male executives. And it’s a gift that keeps on giving – if you keep practising.

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Dr Alan Watkins

Alan is recognised as an international expert on leadership and human performance. He has a broad mix of commercial, academic, scientific and technological abilities.

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