Becoming less reactive

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Imagine your body is a house.  Every time you reflect calmly, you are building a window on the world.  Photo by Nathan Fertig on Unsplash

Reactivity is a natural part of being human.  But you may find that your reactions to events dominates your life in an unhealthy way.  Perhaps you get angry when other people inconvenience you.  Perhaps you become fearful and anxious when it’s time for a change of routine or surroundings.

Whatever your particular reactivities, the general effects are remarkably similar between individuals.  Blood pressure, heart rate and breathing rate  can rise.  Alertness increases, and attention tends to micro-focus on things which, in normal times, barely get your attention.

In the short term, this is bearable.  But consistently raised metabolism, and consistently obsessive focus on one or two particular aspect of your life, can tire you out and cause repeated collapse and exhaustion.

REDUCING YOUR REACTIVITY

You could say that, given your environment, it is natural to react in the ways that you do.  While this is no doubt true to a point, you also have an ability to reflect on your reactions, and decide whether or not to change them.

When people inconvenience you, you can either let loose your anger, or use it as training in patience.  When your routine or surroundings change, you can either have a meltdown, or use the situation as training in wise adaptability.

FINDING THE WINDOW

If you don’t reflect at all on your life, then you will be like some animals, just reacting to whatever happens with noises, puffing and panting, moods and nervous tics.  It takes a long time to build in to your reactions an ability to reflect, but, however hot-headed you are, it is possible.

If you don’t reflect, then you are like a house with no windows.  The world rumbles outside, and you run and hide inside yourself, because you have no idea what is going on, and no idea how to connect the outside world to your insides.

But if you learn to reflect well, then you are like a house with big picture windows.  You can see the beauty in everything that goes on, watch the weather pass, know what time of day it is, see things coming and going… all from within your usual protective shell, but with the benefit of a fantastic view.

Developing your reflective ability is like performing improving architecture on a house.  It will make your body happier to live in.

RESPONSIVENESS AND RESPONSIBILITY

If you succeed in enhancing your window of reflective opportunity, you will find yourself becoming less reactive, but more responsive.  For example:

  • If someone in your family provokes you, you will take the time to see their point of view, and to decide how to respond, rather than just getting upset.
  • If change happens, you will take time to get used to it and explore it in your mind, rather than just panicking.
  • If someone gets in your way and holds you up, you will take time to adjust to the slower pace, rather than getting angry and fighting.
I am sure you would rather be responsible than reactive.  Responsibility has the advantage of helping both you and others, since you create a pleasant area for peaceful negotiation, in which both you and others can live.  Reactivity, on the other hand, has the disadvantage of inhibiting both you and others, since you are busy getting angry and/or panicking, and others will start to avoid you because they don’t want the hassle.

AN EXERCISE

Today, whenever something gets in your way, or if you are inconvenienced, make it your first response to stop and reflect.  Try to remain peaceful, and adjust.

Then, once you are content, consider what your options are.  Try to choose an action that is compassionate and wise.

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SUMMARY

Reactivity is natural.  But, left unchecked, it can cause problems with physical health (overactive nervous system), and mental health (hyperfocus and/or distortion).

Instead of ‘just reacting’, use change and inconvenience as an opportunity for training in patience and wisdom.

If you ‘just react’, your body is like a house with no windows, isolated and dark.  However, if you enhance your ability to reflect before responding, then your mind and body can work together in a better, more transparent architecture.  You will, essentially, be enlightened.

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