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How Can You Recover From Your Negative Reactions?

Posted Oct 21 2008 11:20pm

In a previous post, I talked about the natural learning process of finding a hole in the road and eventually noticing it and going around it.  Recently, one of my coaching clients described a situation in which he lost access to his ‘common sense.’   It’s a personal version of the art of persuasion metaphor I shared with you in that post.

Turns out that someone said something to him that he disagreed with, and he age-regressed almost instantaneously.  He went from being a mature grown man to a pitiful and angry child in the space of three heart beats.  And it wasn’t the first time.  Because it also turns out that he’s had this problem repeatedly for as long as he can remember.

This isn’t uncommon.  In fact, this is the dynamic behind most bad reactions.  Because having a reaction to something means revisiting (re=do-over, re-action = repeated action, re-visit = repeat visit.)   And to effectively use the Art of Persuasion, for communication skills to prove their value to you, it is important that you be in an internally stable frame of mind before seeking to engage the mind or feelings of another.

So how do you recover from a bad reaction?  How do you get your common sense back?  How do you learn to calm down instead of over-react?

One place to start is to frame the question this way.  When things are tough, when I’m in a tight place, how do I want to be in that moment?   Because life is like that.  It has its cycles, its up and downs, its surprises and disappointments.  And you need to be able to roll with the punches and keep your equilibrium no matter what.

Life is amazing in that it is at the same time AWE-FULL and awful.  The successful and persuasive person you want to be has to be able to ride the waves of change in THIS moment.  You don’t have to figure it all out in this moment or any other moment.  But you need enough of a clue to be able to act responsibly when presented with challenge.

I recommend that you play the ‘breaking the chains’ game.  You win when you can answer the following five questions specifically, not generally, in terms of see, hear and feel.

1.  What is your negative reaction?
(What do you think, feel, see in yourself that you consider negative and dislike?)

2.  What makes it undesirable to you?
(What don’t you like about it, specifically?)

3.  What is the trigger/stimulus for the old undesired reaction?
(To find this out, remember the last time, slow down the memory, and notice just what happened before your reaction.)

4.  What behavior don’t you want to do anymore invoked by your undesired reaction?
(What happens right after your reaction, that is evidence to you that you’ve had a negative reaction?)

5.  When that trigger is fired, what behavior do you want to do instead?

6.  When that trigger is fired, what is the internal state that precedes that behavior?

Some of my clients draw a blank on this game when it comes time to talk about what they want to do instead.  No problem.  If you ever can’t think of what to do or feel, ask yourself, who do I know that would know what to do?  What would he or she do? And then try that on, as if you are that person, to find out if it works for you.  Tinker with this mental model until it matches your desired state perfectly.  Then explore what they must be thinking, feeling or seeing in order to engage in that desirable behavior.   Once you’ve got it sussed out, got it where you want it, got it so it makes perfect sense to you to see that person doing and thinking and feeling that, step into it, try it on as yourself.  Then you have your desired state.  All that’s left is to associate it to the trigger for the old behavior by mentally giving yourself a do-over.  And yes, practice makes perfect.

Turns out that this is exactly what you do in life when you learn a new response to a predictable old pattern.  The difference is, when you do it on purpose, you can accelerate the learning.  Otherwise, you are left to the steady drip-drip of learning that comes from repeating undesired behaviors over and over.

I’m interested in hearing your comments on how you recover from a bad reaction. And I promise to have a good reaction if you provide a comment!!
be well,

Rick

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