How many of us live our lives like a pinball? We come across an obstacle, whether it be a rude co-worker or an unresponsive computer, and we react, getting angry and frustrated, we then bounce off to the next obstacle, carrying this anger and frustration with us. This process may continue all day. Someone cuts you up on the way home and it’s honking and swearing. Your other half makes an offhand comment and you get upset and sulk all evening. Be honest with yourself now, does that sound like you at all? How does this make you feel? My bet is that you are regularly exhausted and unhappy.
The issue here is one of reactivity. We allow others to dictate our moods by reacting to what they say or do. You may think that this is a natural human reaction and that this is how we are supposed to live our lives. I am here to suggest the very opposite. The following idea sounds really simple but can be a challenge to take on board and apply so give it some serious thought before reading on:
You are your responsible for your own mood. If you become angry then that is a choice you have made.
So how many of us blame our bad mood on a co-worker or on traffic or some other external factor? When you consider the above truth then does this seem a slightly odd way of dealing with the situation? When we get angry or upset then we are the ones that suffer, it is our happiness that we are choosing to compromise and often this spills over to affecting our loved ones also. In such situations if you could take a step back then would you?
The good news is that you have already taken the first step to overcoming the issue of reactivity just by recognizing that you fall prey to it. Perspective is the first tool to use in such situations. When you feel yourself about to react just hit the brakes and take a step back. Give the situation perspective and allow yourself to make a rational choice with how you deal with the situation.
We can also consider perspective when dealing with instances of communication reactions. One of the issues with human communication is that it leaves a lot more open to interpretation than we might think. If we are a reactive sort then it is likely we will interpret any ambiguity in a negative sense, taking it personally and using this as a trigger to launch a bad mood. Again use perspective to take a step back and consider alternative interpretations for what may be being said.
For situations where we are triggered by things that we can do nothing about such as traffic or a computer issue an important phrase to remember is ‘control the controllables’. This means that you can only act on things in your personal control. Traffic and computers are outside your control so it is a total waste of energy to react to them. Our attitude on the other hand is always under our control. Focus your energy on improving your attitude instead, there is always a positive to take from a situation. If your computer deleted your report then just see it as a chance to produce a better one. Even if the situation seems totally hopeless then you still have control over your attitude and can use such a situation to practice a virtue, resilience for example.
I hope that the above description has made you think about your own reactivity and whether you could take steps to improve this. Your mood is your responsibility. No one else can make you angry or upset, you make the choice. What’s more if someone is actually trying to upset you why give them the satisfaction by assuming that mood? By breaking out of the cycle of reactivity we give ourselves a huge advantage, we no longer are ruled by emotion, we have perspective which we can use to make better decisions and we always have positive options at our disposal. This is critical for a successful and fulfilling life.
If this area is of interest then there are several books which you can further your understanding and practice with. ‘The Chimp Paradox’ presents this idea in a unique model which is very easy to understand. ‘The Happiness Trap’ gives some great tips to give yourself perspective from your thoughts. For a more philosophical approach try ‘The Obstacle is the Way’ by Ryan Holiday or head straight to the source and look at ‘Meditations’ by Marcus Aurelius.
I’d love to hear your comments on this so please reply below or via social media.