How Can I Be Less Reactive When I’m Upset?

By Lois Barth, Courage to Sparkle, Human Development Expert, Speaker, Coach, and Author

In my coaching and consulting practice, I work with what I call “heart-centered-go-getters” who want greater success, meaning, and impact in their lives. It looks a lot of different ways with a lot of different clients. For some, it’s about being able to promote themselves in a natural manner that works for them. Others are looking to attract an ideal relationship into their lives. Others are seeking greater focus and productivity and stop distracting themselves. The list is endless.

But what I see they all have in common is from time to time their level of reactivity undermines them. It’s human and very common. The great news is that with commitment and consistency, they can “slow down the film” of their inner narrative. The simple act of leaving more space between stimulus and response, as Victor Frankl one of the great thinkers of our time has beautifully articulated in this quote is truly one of the most important ways to shift that pattern.

I’ve struggled with this as well. I’m a passionate person and I have strong core values and when I feel they are violated, or a wound from the past comes up, I used to be quick to respond, almost always leaving a wake of bodies (sometimes my own) as a result. I quickly fell into regret and feeling disempowered and remorseful. I know I’m not alone.

What I’ve since learned through studying brain plasticity is that when we allow our impulse reaction to be in the driver’s seat, and say and do things we later regret, it is not a moral injunction against us but truly the fight/flight/freeze job of the amygdala doing its “I Will Survive” dance. Great in cave days when the wooly mammoth was chasing us, but that wonderful Mr. Amygdala doesn’t know the difference between the beast chasing us and a wound from our past, or an albeit truly upsetting experience not being life-threatening. We are, however, responsible for knowing when and when it isn’t appropriate to react in those situations.

That’s why it’s our job to slow down the narrative, but it takes A LOT of focus when in that pattern, we confuse anxiety and “perceived survival” with urgency. And in those moments, we need to do the complete opposite; slow down, pause, give up being right, for doing the right thing, in most cases, doing nothing until we settle ourselves down, have a clearer perspective and can make an informed decision how to proceed.

When we master or get “good enough” at this skill, we experience greater freedom and well-being, and strengthen our relationships. It’s foundational, that’s why I created an episode on my Smart Sexy TV show on how to “How to Deal With Everyday Triggers and Stress” and start training yourself to slow down your reaction time so you can be more proactive and intentional, especially in the face of upset.

I’d love to hear from you? What did you learn from this post? How will you apply it?

Thanks for tuning in and not tuning out!

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Lois Barth/Courage to SPARKLE