Learning to respond (instead of react) is a significant part of all the change I've made to transition my career. I had to do new things I didn't know how to do, duck my self-doubt, learn to be okay when what I did while I was learning wasn't perfect. I had to experiment. If I would've applied my default reaction I might have frozen in my tracks at the first disappointment. Change requires a devotion to thoughtful response.
Brain review 101
The part of the brain that controls human reaction is called the amygdala. Your amygdala is said to be "highjacked" when emotions take over your actions. You've likely heard of the "reptilian" brain reference (fight, flight or freeze). When emotion rules it can cause us to act inappropriately and later regret our action. I have this nasty little reaction to things that sound like the other person thinks I'm not smart enough to have thought of the obvious. My reaction is beast-like, think snarl from a BIG cat. I am aware of it, but the reaction is so quick it's hard to resist. I am able to see it the instant I'm done snarling and find myself regretful. I hope to continue to get better at managing my reaction.
- First of all, anything we do when we're being beast-like could be embarrassing. How many of us (minus the heroics of lifting a car off someone) ever did anything to be proud of when we reacted in fear or anger? How does it damage our relationships with important people in our lives?
- Second is the pattern we establish that causes us to repeat the same dumb behavior over and over again, often getting us the same results over and over again. That's why old habits are so hard to break, and new habits are so hard to start and sustain, even if we're really trying. If I have a value for the earth and its creatures and my local grocery store encourages me to bring my own bag, and I own at least 2 dozen bags--why is it I often get to the top of the hill, list in hand without my reuseable grocery bag?
- Believe me you don't get any better at changing the older you get, so start now!
- Recognizing what happens to my body when my amygdala is being hijacked. My head gets light and my ears fill with cotton, and I go from "pussycat" to "cougar" in less than a second. Luckily it happens rarely. I had to become aware of the emotion in order to change my behavior so it's great practice for me to observe.
- Identifying the emotions to watch for. I tend to feel angry and then I withdraw to make sense out of the incident rather than yell or leave, although sometimes I want to leave. Saying "Oh I know what that is," helps to calm me.
- Stopping my habit of adding meaning to the actions of others. We are wired to react and then assume some worse-case scenario. The better I get with the mantra, "This is not about me," the better I get.
- Learning to slow down the velocity and ask, How did it feel? What did I learn? How can I use what I learned?
- Learning how to put into words the change I want to make, figuring out the baby steps I have to take in order to move forward, working sometimes just on gut, learning new ways of doing things, and feeling inconvenienced sometimes like the rub of a new shoe.
Almost four years ago we began a house remodel and toyed with the idea of a shoes-off house. Sometimes we enforced and sometimes we didn't. We were terrible at taking off our own shoes. We stopped and started shoes-off efforts, even buying a big basket of all size slippers. But we never could enforce the rule.
We've resurrected our efforts, and here I am finally working on changing my own behavior to be no-shoes in the house. How can I ask others to take off their shoes when I'm walking around in my own? What a hassle. I either end up with a large parcel of shoes on the small landing near the front door or in my closet 1/2 floor up.
The key for getting started was getting clear on the reason for the no-shoes policy and exactly how it worked. It had really been our lack of clarity that caused us to delay our commitment. To begin, we can work on changing our own behavior. I hope it doesn't take as long as the grocery bags.