A reactive experience goes something like this.

A change occurs.

That creates a problem that stops you.

You feel helpless and powerless and you are stuck!

You just want to get something done and you can’t. It’s infuriating!

Usually, you are pretty easy going, but this time, it’s been a bad week, you are hungry and tired and this pushes you over the edge.

You lose it. You feel enraged… you want to smash something.

You seriously want this problem to go away. NOW!

But it just sits there… mocking you.

 

So you lash out!  You fire off an angry email. You cancel your program, you quit your association, you quit your job, you quit that relationship. You walk away. You call somebody and let them have it, or attack some innocent bystander. Perhaps you retreat into a dark place and cut yourself off from people. The stress is too much to bear!

And then… there’s the morning after.  You wake up to the carnage.  You start realizing the consequences of your reactive actions. The people you hurt. How you hurt yourself.  What you’ve lost. The guilt. The regret. The embarrassment. If only you could pull that back. 

You may still justify your actions, but you know that it goes deeper. There are times when anger is appropriate, but the equivalent of road rage over some relatively minor problem isn’t one of them. If we are honest with ourselves, we all know the difference. 

Perhaps you can’t pull your actions back, but you may be able to do some cleanup. Acknowledgement is a good start. You may or may not want to change your decision. Perhaps you can’t change it.  But an apology might do wonders. People are generally understanding.

You might still be able to ask for help to solve the problem that had you so activated. I know… asking for help is a stretch.:)

This description may sound extreme. But we all have experienced something like this. This blog is about how to deal with it when it happens, and how to prevent such reactive breakdowns from occurring.

Managing Autopilot Reactions

The pace of change: Technology driven change is getting faster and faster. The more change there is, the more problems we have. Problems tend to accumulate, not go away. We experience change as a threat. When we feel threatened we react defensively. It’s wired into us. 

Solutions, not sedation: Our first reaction to change is often resentment and resistance. If the stress and depression get too much we want to escape. We may act out, or we may ask our friendly doctor for help. But usually, we don’t need sedation, we need solutions to life problems. 

Guidelines for Managing Reactivity in Times of Change

One: Self Observation: It starts with observing yourself in reaction. You can be conscious and self-aware. You are not your reaction. You are the observer and the chooser. You can observe yourself in reaction, and knowing that you are at risk, you can make a wiser choice.

Two: Responsibility: Seeing yourself in reaction, and seeing your compulsion to blame and complain, you can choose to accept responsibility for managing your reactions. You’ve heard it said that pain is a fact of life, and that suffering is a choice. But it’s really only a choice if you are aware that you have a choice. Otherwise, you become victimized by your lack of options. 

It is not easy to accept responsibility for your reactive state. It’s much easier to be the victim and blame someone or something else, but it’s costly. Accepting responsibility is the way through.

Three: From Reaction to Response. This may be the most basic strategy. Finding yourself in reaction you ask yourself -What would be a more appropriate, more effective response? You may be surprised. The answers come immediately. 

Four: Notice your mood: We think of mood in terms of ‘good mood’ or ‘bad mood’. But it actually more complicated than that. And more important. Your mood, your emotional state, predisposes you for action.  Living in a mood of resentment you are resistant. Creativity dies. Your inner conversation is words of complaining and blaming. You ‘sentence’ yourself to prison. But the door is not locked.

The Mood Continuum

The mood continuum shows the steps to free yourself from negative moods.

Resignation >>>>Resentment>>>>Acceptance>>>>Ambition

You can stay stuck in resignation or resentment and continue to blame and complain, which will spoil your experience and make you less effective. You can walk away in a huff, which may cost you more. Or, you can simply accept what is, take responsibility for moving out of your victim state, and shift to a state of ambition.  Stop letting the problem run you. Decide to take back your power and master the problem.

In my experience once you see where you are on this continuum, and what it’s costing you, it’s relatively easy to shift your state to acceptance and then ambition,  it’s amazing how fast it works. It is as simple as making a couple of decisions.

Five: Time out rule. If you are extremely reactive, your body chemistry has you in flight/fight mode.  You are not thinking clearly. The smart move is to take a time out. Go for a walk. Create space. Sleep on it. Allow your system to normalize. (Don’t push send until you reconsider the next day)

Six: Seek help from Google: I am constantly amazed at the answers I can find to the most basic questions. Especially tech problems. Got a problem?  Google your question. Make it a habit to save a lot of time and frustration.

It happened to me a couple of days ago. I noticed that I hadn’t received any email on my laptop for three days. I Googled for an answer. I couldn’t make sense of the answers that I found. So I slept on it. Came back the next day. Tried again. I found the Mailbox bar that I couldn’t find before. I followed the instructions to click ‘receive mail’ and voila I was back in business. It feels good to solve these problems yourself.

Seven: Ask for help: This is an advanced strategy:) There’s this thing called ‘asking for help’. It’s amazing what can happen. I have had to seek help a number of times this year with tech problems. People have been very willing and very helpful. Sometimes just talking about the problem helps solve it.

Eight: Change Your Way of Being: I tell a story about a reactive episode I had with our Apple TV. After fuming for some time, I said to myself  “You know better than this Mike. What is your current way of being? Angry and avoiding. How is that working? It’s not. What would be a more effective way of being?” The words “creative problem solver” came to mind. I kid you not. Right away I noticed my internal state shift. I called Apple support and we got it done.

Nine: Master it: Doing a minimum to get through a problem is the norm. That usually means that the problem will come back because you haven’t really mastered it.

As an example, I got my first Apple laptop a couple of years ago. They said learning to operate it would be ”intuitive”. Maybe for twelve years olds, but not for me. I struggled. Finally, I got some coaching from my son PJ. He said, “Dad, you have to master it.” That meant going online, finding the tutorials and spending time figuring it out step by step.  I got a few extra tips from PJ along the way and learned to collaborate with friends who were having similar problems. Soon I was able to function. I keep learning.

Note: When I say ‘mastery’ I mean pushing through to a place where you can function. There may be plenty more to learn. 

Summary: As the pace of change increases, we have more problems. We need to see that our basic problem is change management. There’s a natural cycle that starts with reactive emotions such as resentment and resistance. We may fall into fight or flight mode.  If we don’t see what is happening, we become the victims of our reactive state. We get stuck. We may say and do things that are costly and which we later regret. Mastery starts with self-observation. Seeing ourselves stuck in ‘reaction’ we can choose ‘response’; take back our power, be more effective, and improve the quality of our lives. It’s about managing change so it doesn’t manage us.

 

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