The Eyes Have It

I wish I could see like a chameleon, but I wouldn’t want to look like one. They have panoramic binocular eyes which can move independently from each other giving them 360° vision. That kind of sight would be very helpful to a parent! Each creatures’ eyes are uniquely suited to their way of life. Eagles can see clearly and precisely for up to two miles and discern tiny differences in color, helping them to find and track prey. Grazing animals have horizontal pupils and eyes that rotate as they tilt their heads down to give them maximum peripheral vision.

Humans have eyes suited for our lives as well. Our eyes are capable of both a focused and clear view (focal) and a wider but less detailed view (peripheral.) These views are tied into our autonomic nervous system (ANS) in an interesting way. Our ANS has a “go” system, the sympathetic nervous system often referred to as fight or flight, and a “slow down” system, the parasympathetic nervous system that supports connection, relaxation, and social engagement.

Going back to the way we see, our focal vision is associated with increased activation of the sympathetic nervous system while our peripheral vision is associated with a decrease in autonomic arousal, or the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system. Additionally, the physical parts of our eye that handle peripheral vision are more numerous and robust than those that handle focal vision, meaning we take in and process more information with our peripheral vision than with our focal vision.

When we are stressed or sense a threat, our sympathetic nervous system kicks into high gear and, among other responses, our vision narrows and focuses. Interestingly, it works the other way too. When we are focused intently on something, it increases the activation of our sympathetic nervous system which creates “stress” within our other systems. Likewise, when we are relaxed our parasympathetic nervous system is more engaged and we are taking in more info and seeing a wider view. You guessed it, scanning a broader horizon and using our peripheral vision system lowers our autonomic arousal, leading to feelings of safety and calmness.

We can practice switching from focal to peripheral (or panoramic) vision. Fix your eyes on a point a few feet in front of you. Begin to allow your awareness to shift outward and expand so that you notice more of your visual field. Don’t worry about taking inventory, just allow yourself to receive information without commentary. If you go outside where there is open space and a horizon, you might automatically switch to panoramic vision.

This concept has a non-visual application too. These same things are true about our emotional and mental “vision.” When we are stressed, our emotional and mental field narrows and becomes focused on the cause of our stress. We lose some of our capacity for connection, and we overprocess a much smaller amount of information.

However, when we practice relaxing and lower the arousal of our sympathetic nervous system, we increase our access to information, creativity, and possibility. When things are difficult, we have the greatest need for broad “vision”, yet our automatic (or autonomic) response creates the opposite effect. We must practice the discipline of relaxing and broadening our view so we will be able to think this way during times of stress.

We have all been under a significant amount of stress for a long period. Much of the time, some members of our team will be under stress, but others will not. However, in this season, we are all subject to a higher level of stress. While short term stress can be good and lead to improvement, long term stress is harmful and creates long term issues. We need to be proactive in reducing the impact of this stress on ourselves and our teams.

Find your panorama. Find your way to rest and relax. Find your peripheral vision. You need to take care of yourself so you can take care of your team. Healthy organizations are led by healthy leaders. We need to have eyes that see the wider field and find the inputs that lead us through the current storm and into a brighter tomorrow. We all have emotional and mental eyes in addition to our visual ones, and those eyes have the means to lead our team into the storm and through to the other side. Learning to see the bigger picture and choosing to lead with panoramic vision will make us better leaders, and it is the Kimray Way.