In order to get intentional about our leadership presence – how we show up in situations & the tone we want to intentionally cultivate – it’s necessary for us to become familiar with our reactive or automatic thought patterns and behaviors. You know the ones; something happens and I’m thinking this thought and saying these words before I even realize it! No conscious effort at all. That’s reactivity.
And it’s a pretty unintentional way to lead (and live!).
The alternative is responsiveness. To respond to the people or circumstances around me, rather than react to them, requires intention.
Responsiveness is being present and attuned to myself as well as to others. Responsiveness is calm, mindful, and intentional.
These two functions, reactivity and responsiveness, live in completely different parts of our brain. Take a look at this video clip of me talking about this to the women attending a leadership conference for mothers, called MOMCon:
And what about in our workplaces? What does “threat” look like in your workplace today?
A co-worker challenges your idea – Threat.
You’re behind on a deadline and not getting the cooperation you need – Threat.
You’re explaining a new process to an associate and he or she doesn’t understand and you’re both becoming frustrated – Threat.
You get the idea…
Fight or flight reaction is triggered, adrenals engaged, cortisol is flowing. Here’s the So What: all of this is very energy intensive and sucks resources away from my higher thinking, which goes right offline. As you learned in the video, we call this “Flipping my lid.” So now, just in that moment when I need more than ever to manage my emotions, to empathize and get curious about the other person’s experience, I literally CAN’T! That function of my brain is temporarily disabled!
I want you to watch for this happening over the next week. Watch for it happening in you and in others. You can literally see when someone’s lid is flipped and they’re working from reactive defensive mode, rather than open listening mode. Without that higher part of the brain available, it is physiologically impossible for us to listen fully to one another or to effectively reason. We must first get our whole brain back online. How? More to come…
In the meantime, the exercise below will help you tune in to your own reactive thoughts.
Exercise: Pattern Interrupt
Purpose: to become more familiar with your automatic reactions when in flight or fight mode. And to interject something new, something different, into all that automatic thinking.
- The first thing to do when you become aware that you are triggered and running in reactivity mode… Breathe. Taking a few deep breaths gives your nervous system a moment to calm down and allows your “lid” to close (i.e.: higher brain functions to come back online).
- Interrupt the flow of automatic thoughts by interjecting a self-supportive statement, such as “It’s ok. You can do this.” or “Slow down. You don’t have to say anything right now. Just breathe for another moment.”
- Once you feel yourself calming down and you sense that you’ve regained access to your whole brain, ask yourself a question to help you consider additional perspectives. Here are a few examples:
- What’s significant or important to me about this? Do I know what’s significant or important about this to the others involved?
- What’s my greatest concern or fear about this? Do I know what others are concerned about?
- What assumptions am I making? Have I checked out my assumptions with others involved?
- How else can I think about this right now?
- What is the next wise action I could take?
Practicing this “Pattern Interrupt” type of exercise encourages us to develop flexibility in our thinking and to think more expansively. And as the quote by James Allen at the top of this post implies, choosing our thoughts with care and intention, will positively impact the quality of our experiences.
With all good wishes,