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     Reactivity vs. Responsiveness

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Reactivity vs. Responsiveness
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In the Beginning
Obviously our reactions are an important part of our survival. As I’ve often said, when a bear jumps out from behind a tree, you really don’t have the time to ascertain his intentions; you’ve got to move fast. So reactions aren’t a bad thing in and of themselves. It’s really a matter of the right tool for the right job. Today, most of us don’t have to deal with
bears jumping out at us, so we do have the time to ascertain what’s going on in the moment.

Ascertaining what’s going on in the moment. That little phrase belies one of the most powerful skillsets we can develop; the power of Mindfulness. There are many definitions of Mindfulness, but Dr. Dan Siegel of UCLA has one that’s as easy to grasp, as it is accurate. We have “experiential circuitry” in our brains devoted to taking in new data, and “observational circuitry” devoted to correlating that with existing data. This enables us to create meaning and a kind of descriptive narrative or context.

What usually happens is that our “observational circuitry” lags behind our “experiential circuitry,” creating a kind of gap between them. We experience something and figure out what it was about afterward. Mindfulness is about shrinking that gap, so that we understand what’s happening more in the moment. We’re experiencing and understanding almost at the same time.

In Neolithic times, finding meaning or context wasn’t as immediately important as not being eaten by a lion. Being relatively reactive was the right tool for the job, when what was happening around us was more about immediate physical threats. This is no longer the case. Especially as our interactions, our communication, and our lives get more complex, we need to understand what’s happening around us on a much deeper level.

Just a Pinch of Thought
When we’re in reactive mode, we’re like billiard balls, bouncing off of everything, with no intentional direction. Something comes up and we bounce off of it, running into something else, then bouncing off of that. Aside from the physical and emotional damage it does to us over time, it’s also just not very productive. Being in constant reaction, we never get the opportunity to get in front of circumstances with strategic planning. We’re constantly putting out fires instead of taking the time to make things fire-proof.

What’s worse is that when we’re in a reactive mode, zipping around at top speed, we make a lot of mistakes, These mistakes end up taking so much time to fix, that we end up with a very slow net result. Whether it’s saying or doing something, we can be sure that rushing and reacting will result in regret. Remember, reacting is by definition not thinking. This is what happens when the doctor taps a rubber hammer on your knee’s patella, and your leg kicks. You don’t have the opportunity to insert thoughtful intention.

Introduce just a pinch of thought, and reaction becomes a response; thoughtful and measured. You might think that you don’t have time for this, but that’s a myth. There’s an old expression I use pretty often: “measure twice; cut once.” Taking that moment to double-check before you say or do something will invariably stop you from making the kind of mistakes that take extra time and energy to repair.

You see this sort of thing all the time. People are in this brainless, reactive state of mind, and rushing to get out of the house, forget important papers, keys, or spill coffee on themselves while multi-tasking. This inevitably eats up more time than if we’d slowed down just enough to be more conscious and intentional. Especially if you have to go back in the house to change your coffee-soaked clothes, or you’ve locked yourself out, or both.

The Speed of Success
I was talking with an athlete about using a Mindful approach, and he said that in virtually every sport, one of the top techniques for success is something called “slowing time.” If you’ve ever swung a golf club, baseball bat, or tennis racket, you know that the more you try to kill the ball, the worse the shot. Taking the time to prepare, visualize, and smoothly swing through the ball gets much better results.

I’ve had clients who felt pressed to be more reactive, because speed was such a highly valued commodity, and yet once we looked at error rates, re-dos, uncomfortable customer conversations when the wrong documents went out, and so forth, we saw that rushing was not the solution. Smooth, steady, and accurate yield us much faster results in the long run, as well as less work. All we need to do is add that pinch of thought. Responsive will always beat reactive.

We can take a few seconds to save hours. We can listen to another person more fully, and with more attention, because we’re not rushing off in our mind. We can avoid misunderstandings that waste time. We can give others the gift of our full attention, enriching our relationships, and creating depth and sustainability. We can do things once, without errors, giving us back more time to do more (if we want to). We can also fully experience our own lives, rather than a blur from the window of our speeding bullet train.

Want to learn more about how to become the best you possible?  Come visit the web site, or better yet, contact me and see how we can design a program to fit your needs and desired outcomes.

     - Ian J. Blei


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