Transforming high stakes reactivity

There are many different ways in which we can so easily get triggered into high-stakes reactivity and all that goes with that. It can be anything from a word spoken out of turn by a close and valued colleague, a moral judgment directed straight at us, the feeling of having not been looked after when we most needed it, even a glance in our direction that we interpret as negative in some way or the fact that someone passes us by without acknowledgement. During each and every moment of this kind we have a choice to make, ‘to react or not to react’ and sometimes we are far from in control of this choice. The reaction is happening almost before we know it and sometimes we explode or project this on to others. This can manifest as “I’ll show you…..I’ll teach you a lesson”. Other times we turn the reactivity inwards where it does damage to the self through the reinforcement of self-limiting beliefs or deeply held self-doubts.

This kind of ‘negative’ reactivity is very familiar and there are many things that we can do to lower the stakes for ourselves and others such as pausing, taking a deep breath, moving our attention from what we are feeling [Affect] to making sense of what we think may be happening and saying what we are seeing [Bystanding in Meaning]. Locating empathy for the other is also critically important in being able to manage and work more effectively with the degree of reactivity we experience in high stakes.

As we go more deeply in to this territory of being in command of ourselves and our reactivity in high stakes, coming to know what triggers us and the stories that lie behind those triggers is our ‘work to do’. We need to fade our reactivity away. We need to let go of it. The triggers will always be there, we cannot be leaders or the coaches who work with them without getting triggered in some way but what we can do is be in command of what happens when we catch sight of the storm of high stakes reactions in both ourselves and in others. So, we can relinquish and let go of our reactivity to the triggers. Achieving freedom and independence from powerful and damaging reactivity is like beholding ease. There is an inner grace, poise and ease that comes to those who make their own reactivity the focus of their attention.

Recently, I have been exploring a glorious paradox and duality that exists in this context which Norman Fischer’s book ‘Training in Compassion’ helped me to see. In his 59 slogans for developing compassion and resilience, there is one in which he talks about ‘driving all blame in to one’ where he is asking us to look this way, towards the self, rather than looking to blame others in our reactivity. The more we can do this, the more peace we can find because of how it involves us taking greater responsibility for our actions, thoughts and feelings. I often find myself asking – What can I learn from this? What does the situation teach me? In turn, this enables me to see the ‘other’ as a teacher rather than as some kind of ‘enemy’ or someone I need to shield or protect myself from.

Now comes the paradox! Norman Fischer also urges us in the following way. He says, ‘don’t get so stuck on yourself’ where you focus so much on the self and where ‘me’ becomes so prominent and strong that we make everything that happens around us about the self in some way.

So, in parallel we have:

“What are you making this about you for?!!” alongside “You do know this is about you don’t you?!!”

I love this and find it so helpful as a frame for working with my own reactivity in both low and high stakes.

Norman Fischer also says, ‘Don’t wallow!’ which I love because one thing’s for sure, as someone who is high in Affect, I absolutely do have a tendency to wallow in the aftermath of high stakes reactivity. What helps? Catch sight of it, see it for what it is and transform it. Make the change. Walk on! Until the next time, and round we go again!