Staying Responsive in a Reactive World

We live in a world that is riotously reactive.  We are bombarded with inflammatory tweets, provocative posts on social media, demanding emails, urgent text messages, the hyper-sensationalized news, and finger-flipping traffic.  All of this is in addition to reactions from the people in our families, in our communities, and with whom we work.   I thought at length about how to stay responsive in this reactive world recently when preparing a workshop for a wonderful group of immigration attorneys whose work lives are filled with daily reactions, changes, and demands.  How can they be their best selves – flexible, responsive, and curious – with all of this going on?  How can they stay encouraged?  Here are a few of the things that we talked about – and a few things that we didn’t discuss  – that can assist you in staying serene among the chaos.  I hope they assist you in being your best self, too!  

First of all, when we are reactive, we tend to see the world in polarities.  We miss nuances, turning a blind eye to all of the other alternatives that may be available.  It serves us – even beyond feeling better – to find that serene, sweet space to hang out in.  Think of the last time you experienced a big charge on a Facebook post or from something you heard in the news.  Remember the feeling in your body?  Maybe the space around your heart closed up, or your stomach had a knotty ache, or your throat tightened.  Not only do these reactions put blinders on your “big picture” vision, but they also have an impact on your body.  Most of us stop listening, begin defending, and want to be right above all else. 

Limit social media and media time for a set time.  I have stopped watching the news, and I rarely check Twitter.  I limit my time on Facebook.  Set a reasonable limit for your exposure to media, including television, for a two-week period.  Check in at the end of those two weeks and see how you feel.  You probably won’t miss out on something earth shaking.    

Breathe.  This sounds so simplistic, and you may have heard it a million times, yet it is very powerful.  If you’ve seen something upsetting or you feel frustrated or angry, put your hand on your belly as you breathe deeply in through your nose, feeling your belly rise.  You can inhale for four counts and exhale though your nose for eight counts.  Each time, let your belly rise on the inhale and then fall on the exhale.  At the end of 6 or 8 rounds of breathing, check how you feel physically and emotionally.

Discover the space between stimulus and response.  Victor Frankl wrote, “Between stimulus and response there is a space.  In that space is our power to choose our response.  In our response lies our growth and freedom.”  Discover what it takes for you to make that space wide, so that you respond from your most curious, loving self.  When the space is small, we tend to have knee-jerk reactions and often regret what we say or don’t say or do or don’t do.  For me, it helps to ask myself, “How do I want this to turn out?  How do I want my relationship to be?”  It is a practice.  It means forgiving yourself when you react from a small or narrow space and deciding how you will do it different the next time.  It may mean making amends. 

Two previous blog posts, Navigating Through Troubled Waters and Moving into Calm When the Going Gets Rough, have add-ons for your journey to responsiveness.

In our next post, we’ll talk about more ways to be responsive.  All of the ways involve getting curious enough to widen that space.  On the other side, you will feel so “at choice” and flexible.  You will also be comfortably living from your best self.