Don’t blame the problem, blame your reaction to it.

Never a truer word was said about personal development than “Lord grant me the serenity to accept the things I can’t change, the courage to change what I can and the wisdom to know the difference”.

With the emergence of Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP), mindfulness, emotional intelligence and many other forms of conscious neurological programming available today we know a lot more now about ways to become more effective and happier in everything we do.

I have observed that in many instances in our personal and working life we tend to react to situations. If someone is critical in the workplace our reactions are somewhere between fighting back and internalising criticism depending on how we deal with certain situations.

When we do this we are automatically taking ownership for a problem we didn’t know we had a few minutes ago. We often walk away saying “wow I thought I was doing a great job, and you make one mistake...”

Mindfulness is a mental state achieved by focusing awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. It can be used as a therapeutic technique.

Mindfulness has taught me to stop reacting to these situations and start responding.

So what is the difference?

Reaction comes from your hard wiring in the brain built over the years to protect you from harm, both physically and mentally. Reaction is often an unconscious decision to act. It can affect us by pushing chemicals through our bodies, evoking a physical change in our posture and facial expressions.

Being responsive comes from a conscious state of wanting to make sense of a situation through reasoning and exploration. By responding you take charge of the next steps and can mould the outcomes to your benefit.

A great mental picture might be to think of those action movies where everything slows down into a ‘slomo’ and we watch to see what the hero will do. We have time to look around the screen, size things up and build a mental plan of action.

Most issues, feedback or comments in the work place are about what you have done, or are totally out of your control and not directed at you as a person. If you get feedback on a presentation not being up to scratch don’t think about how you feel hurt by the comments, think about the inert aspects like the slide deck, venue, pace of your words or lack of preparation. These can all be improved on.

If we think about the presentation example above, by being mindful of your thoughts and being responsive instead of reactive we can turn a perceived negative into a positive experience and over time rewire how we think and act.

Here are some tips:

  1. STOP. Before you say or do anything, engage your brain take a deep breath, calm your mind and resist the urge to react. Your brain wants to do what it’s hardwired to do so you have to learn to take charge.

  1. THINK. Kick your brain into gear and think about the ‘who, what, where and how’ of the situation. What is the context, who exactly is saying it to you, is it in a meeting or just in the office during a casual conversation? If it is your boss or a client then knowing how to improve should be the motivation going forward.

  1. RESPOND. Rather than yelling back with a defensive response you may ask a question or put the problem back onto them. “It’s a shame for you that you didn’t like it”, or ask “what were the particular aspects that you felt needed improving?”

  1. REALIGN. If you have to take on board feedback from your boss or a customer try to think of a plan to either improve next time or rework aspects of your approach.

This technique can work for a number of situations, from your team not performing to an unexpected event you need to deal with. The most important step is No.1. By training yourself to stop and then think before responding you will increase your emotional intelligence, become more aware of your actions and more effective in everything you do.

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