1141: Stop Being so Reactive All the Time

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  • Don’t make assumptions about the other person’s intentions.
  • Take responsibility for your own frame of reference.
  • Be compassionate and don’t presume accidents to be purposeful.
  • Ask for clarification because there could be a misunderstanding.

Picture a dog being led by its master on a leash; he sees a cat and begins barking savagely, pulling its master behind it as it chases the cat relentlessly. That is exactly how emotionally reactive people are! When they see or hear something they don’t like, their immediate reaction is to “bark,” “bite” or “tear it to sheds.”

Emotionally reactive people can be found everywhere - - in traffic, shopping centers, social networking sites, political rallies, in your neighborhood, in business and in families. Whenever there is a traffic jam, delay, miscommunication, mistake or controversy, these are the people who react first.

To some extent, we all are slaves to our emotions. Becoming a master of your emotional triggers is a long and difficult journey. It requires a lot of strength and effort to stop and pull back whenever you are tempted to overreact to a situation.

When we assume something on our own, we react to it without knowing the truth. Like when we yell at a person for stopping in the middle of the road creating a jam, we assume that they don’t know how to drive and start yelling at them. The truth could be that their car broke down or they had a medical emergency (which happened to my father-in-law).

It is easy to become angry, resentful, offended, sad, and distressed in such situations. Why don’t we do something about it? Here are some tips which might help you set yourself free from the clutches of anger and be less reactive.

Assess the Situation

We often come to conclusions without knowing very little about the person or the situation we are angry at. Ask yourself, “What do I really know about this person and what do I think they're aiming to do?” When we don’t know them, how can we just predict what they’re really thinking? We cannot. Take a deep breath, pause and assess the situation before reacting in the moment.

Be Empathetic (understand & share feelings of another)

Not everything is as meaningful as we think it to be. Do you think that the person whose car broke down in middle of the road wanted that to happen? No, accidents happen. People can be distracted. If you can’t sympathize, at least empathize with them. You could be in their place some other time.

Ask for Clarification Handle the situation in a calm way by asking the other person openly what they intended to do or say. They may answer honestly or may not. But at least you save yourself from your blood pressure boiling over by not reacting to what you “thought” was their intention. So, the next time a nagging teammate asks you why you did “whatever,” ask them what they meant to accomplish by asking that question.

Be Direct

Like we do, other people can also misconstrue our intentions, causing us to get irritated and react negatively. In that case, clearly set the tone of your agenda and neutralize hostility for a sensitive topic. You could try phrases like, “my intention for this meeting is ...” or “I don’t mean to be negative, but help me to understand...”

Focus on Something Positive and Constructive

Positivity breaks the cycle of negative thoughts and emotions. It also helps remind you that life wasn’t always as painful as it seems in the present moment and it helps give you a different point of view. When you are distressed, think about the best thing that has happened to you today or in the previous week.

Watch or Listen to Something Upbeat

Instead of just calling out names at the person who caused a traffic jam or the issue, just turn on some music and transport yourself through the emotional turmoil. Try listening to “Three Little Birds” by Bob Marley & the Wailers or “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” by Bobby McFerrin for starters.

Life is a carnival of ups and downs. Just remember when you are feeling emotionally reactive in a situation, to pause and take a deep breath because this too will pass.

A few other feel-good tunes:

Can’t Stop the Feeling, Justin Timberlake

Happy, Pharrell Williams

Surfin’ USA , Beach Boys

Let’s Dance, Chris Montez

See You Again, Wiz Khalifa & Charlie Puth

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