1: Recognizing our reactivity is step one.
The crucial step two? Managing our reactivity. In Leading Well from Within, Dr. Daniel Friedland* suggests we approach this task sequentially.
Step 1: Pause. “The first step is to simply pause, allowing [ourselves] to mindfully be with whatever sensations, thoughts, and feelings [we] are experiencing,” he writes.
Step 2: Take three breaths. We can intensify the calming effect “by breathing out with a more prolonged exhalation,” Danny notes. For example, we can breathe in for a five-second count and breathe out for an eight-second count. Additionally, we can imagine breathing through the center of our heart. When we breathe this way, we’ll likely notice our minds becoming clearer and sense a greater ability to be more proactive in what we do next.
Step 3: “Name it to tame it!” Research shows when we label our emotions, the rational part of our brain is activated, and our “stress reaction” is shut down almost instantly. This mindfulness technique engages our “observing self,” writes Danny. Naming our thoughts and emotions shifts our energy and allows us to observe from a place of openness, kindness, and compassion. There is a world of difference between experiencing “I am angry!” and noticing “I’m having an angry feeling.”
Step 4: Consider our best response. As we begin to think more clearly, ask: what is the desired outcome here, and how can I best achieve this outcome?
2: Danny notes that these steps are a guide. We can use them in whatever order will serve us best. It begins by cultivating our awareness: We sense ourselves becoming reactive, “whether it feels like a pit in [our] stomach, more rapid breathing, nervousness, anger, or resentment,” he writes. Next, we pause, breathe, and then label our thoughts, emotions, and feelings.
As we do this practice, we recognize we are not our thoughts, emotions, and feelings. “They are just experiences passing through [our] field of awareness. Meeting and naming [our] experiences with a spirit of openness and even hospitality takes the reactive edge off difficult experiences, offers the opportunity to further explore what these experiences have to teach [us] and opens the door to other potentially transformative experiences,” Danny observes.
3: Danny then shares a poem by the thirteenth-century poet Rumi entitled “The Guest House”:
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture.
Still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Reflection: How might I benefit from practicing being mindful of my thoughts, feelings, and emotions?
Action: The next time I feel stressed or frazzled, pause, take three breaths, and label the emotion.
*Danny was my friend, mentor, and business coach. He passed away after a yearlong battle with brain cancer on October 30, 2021. To watch Danny’s memorial, click here. Note: service begins at 12:45 time marker. His sons remarks begin at 1:14:30.