If we are reactive, it’s easy to hand over our personal power and let other people control us. It’s easy to get lost in emotions and act abruptly on our impulses. It’s easy to be over-dramatic and make something out of nothing. It’s easy to become a slave to emotional impulses and get lost in a mental fog.
The importance of understanding one’s emotions and not being reactive was something I learned by living with nuns and monks during my travels.
My first observation was how calm and and centered the monks appeared to be. They seemed to have total control over their emotions and acted – instead of reacted – in response to certain people and circumstances.
If they made a mistake, they kept their cool. If someone acted inappropriately, they kept their cool. If something bad happened, they kept their cool. If somebody said something offensive, they kept their cool.
The monks and nuns were able to keep their cool because of a calm mind, high levels of self-control and their ability to reframe situations.
When people or circumstances exert a large influence over our emotional state, we become reactive and act on emotional impulse. This reactiveness itself causes us to lose perspective, due to our overwhelming emotion.
This loss of perspective can lead to action without any thought of the outcome. The history of our actions often shows that they resulted in shame and regret. We acted foolishly, made something out of nothing, and said and did harsh things to people we love and respect.
These are behaviors we never would have participated in had we maintained calm and centered within ourselves.
Once we learn how to respond instead of react, we’ll evolve as individuals and become more stable and reliable. This ability is beneficial to every single part of our life. It’s also an essential leadership quality and can be found in all the great leaders and influencers.
Let’s be honest.
If you don’t have enough self-control to manage your emotional impulses, how can you expect to manage companies and employees? Success in such matters always starts within oneself and through personal transformation.
Napoleon Hill once wisely stated:
’’No one can make you jealous, angry, vengeful or greedy – unless you let him.’’
This is profound. Nobody can change your emotional state without you allowing them to do so. The ability to apply and internalize this knowledge is a game-changer that can liberate us from emotional reactiveness.
At the same time, we are emotional human beings, not robots. Undesirable feelings will always arise, and we will always have ups and downs. That’s life. Learning to act instead of react is more about learning how to control undesirable impulses.
Below is a five-step formula you can use to reduce your emotional reactiveness and control your impulses.
1. Become aware of your undesirable emotions
The first step to becoming less reactive is to be aware of when the undesired emotions arise. They are often due to certain emotional triggers. When we develop awareness and the ability to recognize these triggers, it will be easier for us to handle the emotions before they get out of hand.
After you become aware of the emotion, fully embrace and accept it. It’s important to not resist or try to repress it. Instead, accept it and let it go.
2. Maintain a calm state of mind by controlling your breathing
Consciously take control over your breathing.
This is crucial, because breathing influences your body and state of mind. When you’re in an unsettled state of mind, your breathing will be short and shallow. If you take control of your breathing and manipulate it by taking measured, deep breaths, you’ll become more calm as a result.
As your breathing changes, your emotional state will also change. This calmness will make you less reactive.
3. Challenge the emotion
Take a step back and challenge the emotion by being objective and thinking rationally. The art of asking the right questions will help you reframe the situation into a more beneficial and positive one.
The same thing can happen to two different individuals, but they can the interpret the situation in totally different ways. Depending on their subjective interpretations, they’ll give the situation different meanings.
Joe and Allan
Let’s say both Joe and Allan are faced with a moment of embarrassment. Joe is able to laugh at his mistakes and doesn’t take things personally. Allan, on the other hand, doesn’t possess this ability.
The ways these two people will interpret the same situation, and the meaning they’ll give it, will be polar opposites.
What can we learn from this?
That it’s all about your interpretation and the meanings you give to things. As Napoleon Hill said, nobody can change your emotional state unless you allow them to. Reframing is the art of being able to change the way you look at things.
In moments of embarrassment, criticism, rude comments or other unpleasantness, ask yourself questions that challenge your emotions and reframe the situation. Being able to reframe things will make you more stable, because people and unpleasant circumstances will no longer be able to get into your head.
You won’t be reacting to people or circumstances, but instead will respond using your own intention.
4. Future prevention
Afterwards, when the situation where you felt reactive has passed, it’s time for reflection and internal work. Let’s say somebody made a rude comment about the weight you gained, and their words stabbed.
Learn to see the valuable lesson in experiences like this.
The thing you perceived as an insult was something you judged yourself on. If this wasn’t something you judged yourself on, then would the reaction have been that hurtful? Would your interpretation of the remark have been different?
In this case, you’re faced with two solutions. Either start working out and solve the thing you judge yourself on, or get over it by practicing pure self-acceptance.
“Once you’ve accepted your flaws, no one can use them against you.” – George R.R. Martin
As we work on ourselves, we gain more intellectual understanding about the underlying causes of our emotions. When the cause is known, we have the ability to change it and reduce its effect. This understanding leads to higher levels of emotional intelligence and will lower your levels of emotional reactiveness.