Managing Your Reactions

    • Managing Your Reactions

      By Naya Kee, previous Capilano University Conflict Resolution Advisor

      A month ago I put a message on my computer screen saver. It is a passage from a Native American story rendered into English by David Waggoner, chair of poetry at the University of Washington. It scrolls very slowly across the middle of my black screen in light blue script:

      Stand still. The forest knows where you are. You must let it find you.

      These words are wonderfully grounding at those moments — and there are many — when I am simply lost in the complexity of the situation I am in and do not know what to do next. They calm me and centre me in my basic — many might say foolish — faith that meaning will emerge without my feverishly hounding it out, and that the situation itself will teach me what needs to happen next if I stay still long enough to pay full attention to the present moment.

      In this example I am using my computer as a kind of self-talk. Self-talk happens when we say things to ourselves to remind us of how and who we chose to be. Undoubtedly, there are certain unchangeable aspects in the character of each one of us. That said, there is much we can do to unlearn beliefs, habits and attitudes that do not serve us. One way is to encourage our inner voice to give us messages that support us to change our conditioned reactions and old routines.

      Self-talk works particularly well in situations where we feel ourselves on the verge of being triggered into anger. We might chose to say to ourselves, for example:

      It's not worth it to get too angry about this.

      Don't attack.

      Getting upset won't help.

      Listen first, respond later.

      One of the participants at a workshop I gave recently was finding it very effective to say to herself, "It's not in your best interests to get angry here," whenever she was tempted to blow up in a situation where her anger could backfire.

      Another time when self-talk can come to the rescue to keep the lines of communication open and respectful occurs when we find ourselves inwardly blaming other people, judging them, or making negative assumptions about their motives. We can interrupt that process with self-talk, such as:

      I can't read her mind.

      Other people don't have to meet my expectations.

      I really don't know what's going on for him; I'm making assumptions.

      Other people don't have to agree with me.

      I'd rather be curious than judgmental.

      Think about those situations in your life where you are simply not pleased with how you react. Consider what you might say to yourself to head off that habitual reaction. The possibilities are endless.