The solution I’ve come up with involves asking yourself 3 questions. This technique works brilliantly as it forces you to pause and think and often that is all that’s needed to prevent that fast, negative reaction. Space for thinking is the cure for reactivity. The questions then help you work out what’s important with the situation you are in, what you can do about it and what the potential positives are for you. Working through them in order allow you to take the heat out of yourself and consider the best course of action for you.
Can I change this?
If you can’t change something then it is utterly futile and self-destructive to work yourself up about it. If something is beyond your control then don’t sweat it, work out what is in your control and action that. As Victor Frankl brilliantly describes the one constant that is always in your control is your attitude. If you are angry, frustrated or upset then that is a decision you have taken and a very poor one at that. If you can’t change a situation then change your attitude towards it.
Is my reaction useful for me?
We all have a natural reaction to situations we encounter, these reactions may seem out of our control but if we pause and gain some perspective by taking a step back we can consider whether the reaction is optimal for us. If not we can change it. So if you get angry at a situation ask yourself whether that is useful for you. The answer will generally be no so you are then challenged to change your reaction to a more measured, and useful, response.
What is the opportunity?
This is perhaps my favourite question to ask myself when confronted by difficult situations. It forces me to think creatively and, over time, helps develop a radar for the positive opportunities in life no matter what mess is put in front of me. This is also typically the area where things fall apart for people, presented with a difficult situation the natural reaction is to throw hands in the air, say this is useless, life isn’t fair and give up. It’s important to make clear at this point that every situation in life, no matter how desperate or futile it seems, present s an opportunity for us to better ourselves. SO when the shit hits the fan take a step back and ask yourself where the positive is in all of this. Even if it is just a case of being able to practice a virtue, such as patience or humility, or the fact that you’ll learn from a mistake, there is always something positive to find. Even if you are suffering desperately there is opportunity, as Frankl puts it you can be ‘worthy of your suffering’.
I hope you can start to use the above in your daily lives to pull you out of reactivity and into a more positive, opportunity focused mindset. This isn’t to say that you’ll never want to react to a situation again, far from it, instead you now have some tools to apply in those situations. Stick to them and I promise they will have a positive impact for you.