DR. John Demartini: How to turn distress into drive
Kerwin Rae

Dr. John Demartini is a world-leader when it comes to human behaviour and personal development, so he knows a thing or two about dealing with fear and uncertainty.

Appearing on a webinar last week, Dr. Demartini spoke about how to develop resilience to feelings of distress and channeling those emotions into high performance.

Why do we feel distress?

Dr. Demartini explained that we feel two forms of distress- the perception of losing something we want or gaining something we don’t want.

On the one side, we feel fear or phobia. We don’t want to attract disease, lawsuit, or a predator of some kind. 

We have these extreme, phobic reactions that result in feeling distress.

On the flip side, we feel a philia or intense desire for something. 

We long for relationships, money, prosperity, and we experience distress at the thought of losing them.

The more philia we feel towards an object or situation, the more phobic we feel about losing it, and vice versa. 

Our brain in distress

The human brain has evolved to deal distress the best way it knows how – by activating your amygdala so you go into survival mode.

When we’re in survival mode, a few things happen deep in our amygdala.

  1. Patternicity

“Patternicity is a tendency to see patterns of things that might be moving, that might be alive, that might be something that might be prey to eat or predator to avoid,” Dr. Martini explains. When we’re surrounded by a lot of chaos, we try to organise it into some kind of pattern to spot hidden threats or opportunities.

  1. Pareidolia

This is a phenomenon where we put faces on things that aren’t there – just like when you look at a piece of wood or marble and see faces and animals in the patterns.  

“We still have that inside us and human beings still do that,” said Dr. Demartini. “When we’re under stress and under high-stress zones, these things are accentuated as survival mechanisms.”

  1. Agenticity and false positives

Once we spot our object amongst the pattern, we jump to the worst-case scenario and assume it’s running towards us or running away from us – depending on if we’ve identified it as something we feel phobic or philia about. 

We assign this meaning and distress to something that might not even exist to begin with.

You might have spotted a couple of these phenomenons in action in the past few months, as you process intense emotions and external change.

But if you want to shift your distress into drive, it’s important to change the way you tackle problems.

Shifting into drive

Dr. Demartini explains we have another area of the brain called the executive center that is activated by feelings of focus.

When our executive center is activated our vision is heightened, our brain’s capacity for strategic planning improves, and our problem-solving ability goes through the roof.

Unlike the amygdala which is all about reacting to distress, our executive center lets us slow down and respond with consciousness.

“The moment you actually activate the executive center, you become objective,” says Dr. Demartini.  “You’re not frightened of the loss of the animal, the food, and you’re not frightened to the gain of the predator. You’re prepared. You’re prepared for the challenge.”

This then begs the question – how do we move into our executive centre when we encounter a challenge?


Harvard recommends developing and implementing emotional regulation skills when faced with emotional or environmental stressors. 

By disrupting the stress response and slowing down the nervous system, it’s possible to stop the survival instinct in the amygdala and re-route your brain’s attention to the executive centre where you can focus on your energy on solving the problem at hand.

“The individual that does that with their economics, does this with their business, with their hiring processes, does that with the clients, the customers… those are the individuals that are able to manage things without reacting,” says Dr. Demartini. 

By using our knowledge of our emotional, chemical and biological response to stress and distress, we can hack our neurology and instead face adversity with poise and drive.

If you’re still finding yourself in a rut and cannot seem to get your mindset in the right space for you to focus on bigger things like your family, friends and your business feel free to talk to one of senior business consultants who are more than ready to talk to you about any topic you want to discuss. They will go through in depth with you any challenge you’re facing and will present you with a roadmap to help you solve it.

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