Advertising
Advertising

Do You React Consciously and Responsibly?

Do You React Consciously and Responsibly?

    Carnage in the Toy Store

    This morning I went to a local shopping centre (mall) to buy a birthday present for my two year-old pseudo-niece (my business partner’s daughter. Happy Birthday little Jessie!)  It proved to be quite the eye-opening experience for the childless (and somewhat clueless) alpha-male. While the shopping part of the trip turned out to be something of an enjoyable adventure for Yours Truly (who knew toy stores could be such fun?), the same couldn’t be said for the six (or so) year-old who was test driving trucks in the next aisle. As the excited young truck driver lifted the object of his desire above his head to show the Chief Financial Officer what he needed for his next birthday, his chubby little fingers somehow lost their grip and the rather-costly toy (over a hundred bucks) came crashing down on to the concrete floor, transforming it instantly into a jigsaw puzzle. Which, of course, is a euphemism for… an expensive pile of crap.

    For a nanosecond there was silence.

    I knew it wouldn’t last. I looked at the little boy. I saw terror. I looked at the mother. I saw wild rage. I felt a bit nervous for the little fella. I think I had some kind of deja vu moment. Sympathy pains. Or something.

    Advertising

    For a moment I thought she might actually kill him with what remained of the truck. Simultaneously it started: his crying and her screaming. For what seemed like an eternity, the mother bellowed at the distraught child. Oblivious to her own disgraceful behaviour, the out-of-control woman ranted and raved like a lunatic.

    If not for the ever-growing audience, I am sure she would have hit the boy. Leaving the broken toy on the floor, the woman dragged the screaming child out of the store and left us spectators stunned. I said something to the shop assistant who informed me that such scenes are a regular occurrence in the store.

    Life: A Never-Ending Series of Reactions

    In many ways, our lives are a series of reactions. It’s unavoidable. And while we do our best to create our own destiny and to live proactive and productive lives, the reality is that we all live in a dynamic and unpredictable world. Reacting is a fundamental and necessary part of the human experience. It’s a required skill. It’s what we do hundreds of times a day. Consciously or not. Positively or negatively.

    We hear the weather forecast, we react. The guy in the Mazda hits his brakes, we react. Our partner says something, we react. Our child spills milk, we react. The boss walks in, we react. We hear good or bad news, we react. One way or the other. Somebody lets us down, we react. The lights change, we react. Somebody gives us feedback, we react. A song comes on the radio, we react. An opportunity presents itself, we react. We’re confronted with a challenge, we react.

    Advertising

    Today you will react hundreds of times and many of those reactions will happen on auto-pilot. Some reactions will be incidental and for the most part, meaningless (scratching an itch, stepping over a puddle, swaying to some music). Some will impact on others (reacting to the woman who cuts you off in the car park). Some will affect your personal relationships (an argument with a friend). Some will be life-impacting (dealing with a tragedy). Some will create positive outcomes. Some negative. One reaction could even involve a child who has accidentally broken a toy.

    In reacting the way she did in the toy store, the mother created numerous (undesirable and unnecessary) outcomes. She:

    1. Terrified a child that (I assume) she loves.
    2. Humiliated him (by dragging him through the store by his shirt).
    3. Taught him that mistakes are not okay.
    4. Drew unnecessary attention to herself and made everyone within fifty feet feel uncomfortable.
    5. Put herself into a negative and destructive emotional state. And no, the demise of the truck wasn’t the problem: her reaction was.
    6. Made herself look like a complete idiot!

    In this life there are many things (most things, in fact) which will happen despite you and me. They will happen to us and around us. Some good. Some bad. However, there is one thing that will always be in our control – unless we choose to hand over that power –  and that is, how we react. Life is not fair or unfair my friends; life just is.

    A long time ago I made a conscious decision that situations, circumstances and events wouldn’t define me or determine my emotional and psychological states; I will do that myself. Consciously and intentionally. I will choose my mood, my attitude, my behaviours, my reactions and therefore, my outcomes. And therefore my reality. I will be influenced by – but not determined by – the events of my world. To the best of my ability, I will consciously and thoughtfully choose my reactions. Will it always be easy? No. Will I do my best anyway? Yep. I will be ever-mindful of the likely consequences and potential impact of my reactions – on my life and the lives of others. Consciousness and awareness (of how I react and the likely consequences of my reactions) are things that need to be worked on. Forever.

    Advertising

    Our reactions can be relationship-enhancing, or relationship-destroying. They can put us in a solution-focused headspace, or a problem-obsessed pity-party. They can make people laugh or fill a room with tension. They can empower people or discourage them. They can make people feel safe and secure or terrified and confused. They can lead to learning and personal growth or bitterness and anger.

    Someone much smarter than me once said:

    In the context of life, it’s not what happens that matters, but how we react (to what happens) that matters.

    I tend to agree.

    Advertising

    Today I’m encouraging you to be more mindful, more conscious and more aware of your reactions (big and small) – and the likely outcomes of those reactions – on your life, and the lives of the people in your world. Sometimes, a better life is the by-product of better reactions. So choose to react consciously and responsibly.

    As always, love to hear your ideas, thoughts, feedback and stories.

    More by this author

    Craig Harper

    Leading presenter, writer and educator in the areas of high-performance, self-management, personal transformation and more

    Why Is Goal Setting Important to a Truly Fulfilling Life? Do You Make These 10 Common Mistakes Before Weighing Yourself? If your Childhood Sucked – It’s Time to Stop Blaming Your Parents! Exploring Relationships with the Single Weirdo Education Should be More than Academic Basics

    Trending in Featured

    1 The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain) 2 How to Stay Motivated and Reach Your Big Goals in Life 3 How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques 4 How to Stop Procrastinating: 11 Practical Ways for Procrastinators 5 50 Businesses You Can Start In Your Spare Time

    Read Next

    Advertising
    Advertising
    Advertising

    Last Updated on July 17, 2019

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    What happens in our heads when we set goals?

    Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

    Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

    According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

    Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

    Advertising

    Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

    Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

    The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

    Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

    So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

    Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

    Advertising

    One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

    Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

    Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

    The Neurology of Ownership

    Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

    In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

    Advertising

    But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

    This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

    Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

    The Upshot for Goal-Setters

    So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

    On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

    Advertising

    It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

    On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

    But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

    More About Goals Setting

    Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

    Reference

    Read Next