How to cultivate connection: social engagement mode

According to polyvagal theory…

PAUSE: Vagal refers to the vagus nerve that innervates the parasympathetic nervous system. This division of the nervous system is known for bringing about a rest-relax-digest response.


… social engagement mode is a state of the body’s nervous system.

When particular nerve fibers belonging to the parasympathetic nervous system are activated, social engagement mode is turned on.

When we are in this mode, we are expressive, we can listen and understand others, we feel open and curious, and our body feels calm and grounded.

What compromises social engagement mode?

Simply, triggers of the opposite, sympathetic nervous system. This is the flight or fight response.

As a celebration scientist, I am trying to reduce this response as much as possible, so that people are able to connect and relate with one another. So that people can express themselves. So that people can have fun and not worry.

Here is how I do it:

1. I make sure the environment is physically safe.

2. I communicate the manifesto of the VYVE community: kindness, respect, inclusion, and learning. I get every participant to directly agree to upholding the manifesto.

3. I promote a sense of familiarity among group members by conducting icebreaker exercises. This involves witnessing others and being witnessed by others.

4. I lead with vulnerability and imperfection. Either I tell everyone how lonely I was as a teenager, or I belt the quote:

“We’re all weird, in the weirdest of ways. And most of us are trying to hide it. If someone lets it out, it is your duty to encourage their weirdness. It is an act of courage. Make it your priority to give them a high-five… maybe even copy them.”

5. I change people’s mood and physical energy by applying neuro-chemically active exercises! In other words, I get people vibing through getting them to do certain things, like smiling and waving at others.

There’s countless other techniques I use to get people into social engagement mode.

If you take away one thing from this article, remember that you are weird, and when you reveal your weirdness, you give others the permission to do so as well.

Written while wearing a banana suit,
Jacques Martiquet, Chief Celebration Scientist

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