Reflecting, Not Reacting
Grateful for growth
"I love when I realize I'm handling a situation better than my old self would have." - Dahlia Blell
My gosh does this resonate. As a stubborn, anxious, highly sensitive person emotions have historically driven much of my behavior, including being reactive rather than reflective. Thanks to supportive friends, family members, and colleagues for years I've been working on slowing down, assuming good intentions, and being more mindful of my communication styles.
A quick primer on the differences between reflecting and reacting:
Reflection: "careful consideration"
Reaction: "action in a reverse direction or manner"
Some tools that have worked in this endless process:
"What story am I telling myself?"
Many practitioners and researchers discuss this idea (one example is linked above), and in my non-psychologist understanding the concept is this:
I make an assumption based on my feelings, state of mind, history, etc.
Instead of letting my mind run with that assumption I ask internally, "What story am I telling myself?"
I reflect on how likely the story is to be true, and then support myself in understanding that the simpler explanation is more likely to be true (parsimony or Occam's razor)
I process this understanding, and if what happened still bothers me after some time I thoughtfully and intentionally discuss my concerns with the person/people involved (I might need to ask for help with this last step)
A real-life example:
A colleague writes me a terse email
I assume the person is upset with me
The story I'm telling myself is that the colleague no longer wants to work with me
The colleague probably isn't upset with me personally; they are probably having a hard time with something else and their terseness is a result of that
I either move on or ask how the colleague is and if/how I can support them
In my doctoral program at Cal State LA I was introduced to the concept of a "critical friend" - a person whom you trust to ask questions, give meaningful feedback, and analyze your work. In everyday life this is often my colleague Tina whom is also a close personal friend. Again, over time I've learned to ask for input before responding to worrisome topics and when drafting stressful messages. Tina will often help soften my word choices and expand on thoughts so they are clear and understandable.
The ability to stop, think, reflect, and then respond in a thoughtful manner has taken years to cultivate and I am far, far from perfect. I used to feel that it was important in both professional and personal contexts to react quickly, make my emotions known, and then deal with the potential fallout. I sent many emails to colleagues that I now find embarrassing, and these days I find it important to help others learn the "slow down and think" skill. One invaluable tool is Boomerang, an email plug-in that amongst other features allows me to remove a stressful email from my inbox and schedule it to come back at a later time. This provides me time to think without the message being in my face and the ability to focus on other things until I am ready to respond in a thoughtful manner.
I'm not a medical doctor and won't dispense advice. That said, I experience anxiety on a fairly serious level (I've had panic attacks on airplanes and while doing everyday-for-me-type things) and the effort I've put in over the past year or so to get my thinking and brain chemistry under control has worked wonders. My daily ruminations have all but disappeared which allows me to be more present and thoughtful, and less reactive and "stuck." If you experience similar things I'm happy to talk privately about what's worked for me - each of our brains, experiences, thoughts, and emotions are unique and deserve to be treated as such.
"Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better." - Maya Angelou