Sometimes, no matter how focused we are on our goals, life knocks us down. Maybe you get laid off because of budget cuts. Maybe a toxic person returns, despite your best efforts to put boundaries in place. Maybe you are in an accident or fall ill. You did nothing to bring on these misfortunes, but you’re suddenly slammed with the task of responding to them. So, what are you going to do? Will you react out of fear or anger, or will you respond thoughtfully?
The difference between a reaction and a response is that a reaction is quick, emotion-driven, and often aggressive— a response, on the other hand? It is calm because it is thought out, and typically more logical. When we are faced with alarming situations, our bodies often revert to what experts call the “reptilian brain,” which is a more basic brain function. It is survival mode. In that mode, you generally experience only two emotions, the ones that help you survive life-or-death situations: anger (fueled by adrenaline) and fear.
It’s not easy to stay cool, calm, and collected in your response to a bad situation, so my best advice is to start practicing now.
The more aware you are of your own reaction and how to turn them into responses, the more you’ll feel ready in a crisis.
So how can you train yourself to thoughtfully respond to challenges? Here are four ways to respond rather than react.
1. Know yourself.
This might sound too simple, but think about it for a second: Even though you are you, do you know your own triggers for aggression? Do you know which situations make you feel like you’re about to burst with anger, or shrink down in fear? Or are you so busy doing the reacting that you don’t take time to assess your own emotions and surroundings?
It is vital for you to become aware of your own reactions in life.
When you react, you are not thinking about all the choices you have: The choice to walk away. The choice to change your attitude. The choice to move yourself to a safer place. The choice to ask for help. When you know yourself, and your reactive tendencies, you can work to change them by calming yourself down and thoughtfully considering your choices. Once you start assessing choices, you have already started using the logical part of your brain! You will feel in control and ready to respond.
2. Calm yourself.
To get out of the reptilian brain’s “fight or flight” mode, work on calming your mind and body. It’s easier to first calm your mind. Some achieve this through prayer, others through meditation. At the very least, take some deep breaths. When possible, remove yourself from the situation for a few minutes to work on calming down. Many find that taking a walk outside soothes both the body and mind.
One you’ve calmed yourself, and your adrenaline and heart-rate have leveled, respond to the situation thoughtfully. Running away is considered a reaction, and that is not your goal. Whatever situation you are dealing with, you must respond to it, however, the goal is to respond in a calm thoughtful manner.
3. Think “big picture.”
Remember that this situation is but one moment in the saga of your life. You’re going to do big things! You have goals to meet! You’ve made it through the shadows before, so you have the capacity to make it through again.
When our bodies have reverted to the reptilian brain, all we can think about is the challenge in front of us. But we know that there is more to life than this. Think about this situation in terms of the “big picture.” How can you make this situation fit into the overall success story of your life? When you can zoom out and view it as a bump in the road, you can make a more informed, long-term response. It’s all about perspective!
4. Have a plan in place.
Sometimes it’s not possible to take a walk, meditate for a bit, or make a list of possible responses. Sometimes you are blindsided by a confrontation that demands a response now! What do you do then?
It’s all about preparation! Have a plan in place before you’re smacked with a challenge. Make a plan here, today, for keeping yourself on track.
Leadership expert Kevin Eikenberry says, “Create 20/20 vision. You know hindsight is 20/20. Your goal in the moment is to mentally move yourself into the future and look back with imagined 20/20 vision to determine your best response to the current situation.” So, know your goals. Know what to focus on. Know what is important to you, and how to get there. Now is a great time to set up a list of specific tasks and behaviors for your response in crisis. Practice makes perfect. Every time you face a challenge, return to the list. Are you reacting or responding? How can you do better next time? Surgeons aren’t all born to be calm under pressure. No, they go through careful training, and have set procedures for responses, so that they can be ready for anything. Plan, and train yourself to respond rather than react.
Never forget that you can control how you behave in the face of challenges.
No matter how reactive you’ve been in the past, you have the power to change. You should aim for controlling your reactions on every level: mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual. Know your own tendencies, know how to calm yourself, remember to think “big picture,” and have a plan in place. This transformation takes time, but eventually you want to have absolute control over your responses so that you can achieve expedient, desirable results in nearly every situation. Combat your reptilian brain and make room for smarter responses that will get you to your goals. Change starts now.
To your Game Changing Success,