When threatened, we are hard-wired to “fight or flight,” also known as “emotional high-jacking.” This instinct serves us well when our house is on fire and we need to make a quick escape. But not so much when our spouse makes a comment and we “fly off the handle” and give them “a piece of our mind.” Two hours later, we find ourselves sleeping on the couch, feeling guilty and wishing we’d never said what we said.
To avoid this fate, we must get in between what happens to us and how we respond. Steven Covey calls it “response-ability” – the ability to choose our response. To insert ourselves in between the stimulus and our response. But how do we actually do that?
In his book Leading Well from Within, Dr. Daniel Friedland shares a four steps to manage reactivity:
Step one: Pause. In other words, don’t react. Slow down. As best you can, release any resistance and relax into whatever you are feeling.
Step two: Take a breath. Better yet, take three breaths. You will likely notice your mind becoming clearer.
Step three: Name it to tame it. The research shows “naming” your emotions shuts down our stress reactions almost instantly. Naming engages the prefrontal cortex, the rational part of the brain.
Step four: Consider your best response.
Reflection: What are the specific situations in which I get triggered? What are the patterns?
Action: Based on my answer above, anticipate and challenge myself to pause and take three breaths before responding.