“Through our constant connectivity to each other, we have become increasingly reactive to what comes to us, rather than being proactive about what matters most to us.” ~ Scott Belsky
Sometimes we get into a mind space where the pause button of our life goes missing.
It’s like we inadvertently sat on the remote control and the volume of the television shot up by some crazy decibels, which recently happened to me.
I didn’t notice that there was a remote kept on the couch and while engrossed in a conversation, I accidentally sat down on it. When the volume shot up, I reacted instantly. I jumped off the couch, started yelling at the person who I was talking to, and somehow managed to turn the volume down—and then I heaved a sigh of relief.
As I look back on this tiny incident, I wonder, “What was the need for me to raise my own volume and panic?”
All I needed to do was to get off the remote, press the minus button, reduce the button, and go back to my conversation. Isn’t this something that we end up doing in certain life situations as well?
Someone says something, we get agitated, our volume goes up, and we end up saying something—only to regret it later. Instant reactions are anything but instant and simple. In fact, they are accumulated over a long period and hold a multitude of emotions within them.
What comes out as an act of simply raising our voice, losing our cool, or snapping, actually involves a complexity of emotions. There is so much of us that becomes a part of that one statement or one conversation.
Our anger, hurt, disappointment, frustration, and deepest fears become a part of that one instantaneous reaction. Sometimes, these emotions can be so overwhelming that we end up shutting down.
Whether we explode or shut down, it still points to the emotional volcano building underneath.
Why do we react in situations?
>> We feel threatened, unsafe, and fearful.
>> We feel vulnerable.
>> We feel we may not be able to handle the situation or the consequences.
We go into a fight or a flight mode. Either we would adopt an attacking reaction, or we would flee from the situation by shutting down, avoiding it, or becoming silent.
When we find ourselves going into a reactive mode, it’s usually preceded by a trigger that could be an event or a specific situation that we perceive as threatening—the threat might be real or just a result of us overthinking at that moment.
I came across this interesting book, The Invisible Lion by Benjamin Fry, where he writes:
“Imagine you are walking along, minding your own business when across the road you see a man running. He’s waving his arms wildly, screaming, turning this way and that, looking over his shoulder. He’s disheveled, wild, frightening.
People get out of his way, avoid him, as they see him coming. You feel the urge to do the same because this guy makes you uncomfortable. You tell yourself he’s crazy and you’re not like him.
You’re just about to look the other way when you see something.
Around the corner is a lion, and it’s running after the man. Suddenly, you see the man differently. You understand he’s in danger. You want to help him. You understand that he’s in danger, and you want to help him.
No one thinks the man is crazy anymore. They are not afraid of him.
The man has not changed. He is still running wildly, terrified, blind with panic. Yet, everything else has changed. His behavior is exactly the same as before, and, somehow, he has gone from crazy to normal, from being avoided to being helped.
What if you are the same? What if everything you think is wrong with you is actually normal but just belongs to a different context? What if you are not crazy or difficult or sick but just can’t see the lion?”
We all are chased by something that’s within us, something that activates our fight or flight mode.
We encounter situations that we think are unpleasant, difficult, overwhelming, or threatening, and we either adopt an attacking stance, or we want to run away from the situation.
Sometimes we freeze. We become silent. We shut down. Hoping that no one would see that we felt something and we wouldn’t have to engage in that situation.
It’s as if you see a bear: you should pretend to be dead because the bear won’t even bother with you if you are—not exciting enough for him, I guess.
In any threatening situation, we resort to three primal behaviors:
The difference between the real world and the reactionary world is that in the real world, we and everyone else can see the lion that’s coming after us. Our behaviors seem pretty normal and rational in that context because everyone else would have had the same or similar reaction.
However, in the reactionary world, the lion is in our mind. We are chased by something that, at times, even we don’t know exists.
The moment we feel threatened, the subconscious lion gets activated, and we have to resort to any one of those defensive behaviors to save our life.
So on the outside, it comes out as screaming, shouting, physically attacking, or throwing things around us, blaming, crying, trying to be right, wanting to leave the space physically, or simply becoming quiet—and on the inside, we are being chased by a lion.
In our internal world, we are merely protecting ourselves from this giant, scary beast that has no shape or form. Usually, our internal lions or demons, as we also like to call them, are our deepest fears tied to our existential needs.
What we fear:
>> Being misunderstood
>> Being unloved
>> Being rejected
>> Being told that we’re possibly the worst person on earth
>> Being left alone
Or as Stephanie Melish writes:
“Fear is an idea-crippling, experience-crushing, success-stalling inhibitor, inflicted only by yourself.”
While reactions are instant, automatic, and may seem simple on the surface, they carry a volcano of emotions within them.
Being in a constantly reactive state turns us into human dynamite. Always ready to explode, to the extent that even our silence becomes explosive.
While these reactions keep us safe and protected, they destroy everything around us.
They rob our relationships of peace, harmony, trust, and respect. They turn our bodies into disease-generating machines: always tense, tight, and malfunctioning. They turn us into lonely, bitter, and sad human beings living with the outcomes that we set ourselves up to avoid for ourselves.
Our own world of reactions is complex, no matter how instant. It requires us to delve deeper into ourselves, find our own lions, and face them.
You might be surprised to find that it wasn’t a lion at all—maybe it was just a cub.
But by virtue of being human, we are endowed with the faculty of thinking. We can train ourselves to approach things from a proactive approach that leads to a mindful solution rather than simply reacting.
When we are only operating from a reactive level, we usually end up losing sight of what matters to us the most: our peace, stability, relationships, and life goals.
We simply remain stuck at the bottom. Even when things are going well, we continue to scan the environment for potential threats. And if there aren’t any, we end up creating them.
We become like walking-talking dynamites. Even our silence becomes explosive, and every explosion only causes more damage.
It then becomes imperative that we must train our minds to think differently, to assume a position of responsibility and not reactivity.
The word responsibility itself means that we have the ability to respond. We can choose what to say and how to behave and where to display certain behaviors.
Constant reactivity takes away our innocence and freedom. The world suddenly becomes a battleground, and it’s either us with us or against us—but in the end, we are the ones who end up losing.
What can we do to train our reactive minds?
>> By reflecting on how we feel afterward. Generally, we would end up regretting our words or actions.
>> Journaling our thoughts and emotions helps us to see them with more clarity.
>> Taking a time-out when feeling overwhelmed.
>> Accepting and acknowledging the difficult emotions instead of fighting them.
>> Checking if the consequences are aligned with what we want from the concerned person or situation.
>> Defining an alternative way of responding in the same/similar situation.
Just like Rome wasn’t built in a day, reactivity won’t go away in a day either. It takes time, a conscious effort, and patience.
But at the end of the day, freeing ourselves from our reactions is what gives us true freedom. All we need to do is, find that pause button within ourselves.
“There is profound peace found only in non-reactivity. This is the stillness of the true self, imbued with the natural aura of its gracious humility and total understanding, as expressed through the absolute and unquestioned acceptance of all that Is. This is the conscious realisation of aware presence, empty of effort and resistance. This is the essence of absolute awareness.” ~ Brian Thomson
So basically, all we need to do is find the pause button in our minds.