For many people, their biggest day-to day-challenge lies in learning to react differently. For some their inability to control their reactions may one day ruin their life. They are often volatile, irrational, inconsiderate, unaware and self-centred. At one end of the scale a negative reaction might temporarily damage a relationship or create some kind of short term problem between friends or colleagues, while at the other end of the scale, an irrational, unthinking reaction (brain snap) might see a person spend the rest of their life in jail; a life ruined (and possibly another one ended) because of a reaction.
In order to create better outcomes in our world and turn those negative reactions into positive ones, we must learn to put some space between the event (the thing we’re about to react to) and our response. A little thinking music of sorts. They say that “time is the great healer”, well it can also be the great “preventer of regrettable and stupid reactions” when we insert it between the stimulus (event, situation, circumstance, problem) and our subsequent behaviour.
As with any prescription (exercise, food, medication, psychotherapy), there’s no blanket solution for this challenge but there are certain things we can do to minimise our chances of doing something we’ll regret; reacting negatively. I can’t provide you with a three-step process which will be universally effective for combating negative reactions because we’re all wired differently and what pushes our buttons varies greatly. What will stress me, won’t bother you and vice-versa. What will cause a ‘reaction’ in you will go un-noticed by me.
1. Embrace calm. Obvious I know, but the more stressed, anxious and volatile we are in our general living (thinking, behaviours, conversations, habits, relationships), the more likely we are to react inappropriately in those moments. Calm, peaceful, balanced people rarely become axe murderers. And you won’t see too many Buddhists jumping out of their car with a baseball bat either. Even if you did cut them off. Do Buddhists even play baseball? Sorry, I digress.
2. Put space between the event and the reaction. I remember one of my school teachers telling us kids to count to one hundred when we got angry. She was pretty smart; she was teaching us to put some space between the event and our reaction. Of course different things work for different people but you and I need to find a way to create a time buffer so that we don’t do something regrettable. Once you’ve punched your neighbour in the mouth, you can’t really undo that! Finding that time buffer might mean hanging up the phone and calling back in ten minutes, it could mean going for a walk, or it may mean completely shifting your attention to something else for a while and then coming back to that issue, situation or person later. These days my self-control is pretty good but when I was a young (insecure) alpha male, I would often walk away from a (potentially volatile) situation and address it later when I was in a better place (emotionally). It worked for me.
3. Ask different questions. I have spoken many times about how the quality of our questions affects our behaviours (reactions), the quality of our outcomes and in turn, our life reality. When we ask better (smarter, more thoughtful) questions, we typically create better outcomes.
4. Invest your emotional energy wisely. Earlier this year I wrote an article on how and where we spend our emotional dollars. Let’s just say that many of us don’t invest wisely and as a result, don’t get a great return on our investment. You might want to re-visit that article when you have a chance.
5. Wear a wrist band. Call it your calm band. Call it your positive reaction band. Call it whatever you want but wear it as a reminder of what and who you’re becoming; someone who reacts differently. Someone who creates better outcomes. Someone who manages their emotions rather than someone who is managed. Someone who is more aware, more evolved, more balanced and more in control. It’s about raising your consciousness and awareness. Of course the band is symbolic but used the right way, it can help you keep your head – thinking, attitudes, internal dialogue, reactions – where they need to be. I have worked with many people who firmly believe that wearing their wrist band helped them in a real, practical and measurable way. It was a constant physical reminder of their commitment to do, be and create better in their life. For some people, a band is a simple tool that will help them stay aware, conscious and productive. For others, it’s simply another stupid idea. Funny that.
Okay, I’m off to find my baseball bat.
Clearly, I’m not the Buddhist I should be.
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