More and more it seems we live in a world of reaction (mostly negative reaction) – hell, one could argue that it’s science!

We all know Newton’s famous words: “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”

But outside of a science experiment, is that true?  Or better yet, does it have to be true?

In our journey to become our very best I would argue that it doesn’t.

When we are faced with a challenge, frustration, or roadblock we must strive to take control of how we choose to react (or not react).

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Recently I had a personal wake up call  which both humbled me and taught me a strong lesson.

Picking up my daughter from daycare always has its challenges. Plus, after a long day of work and the commute home, my willpower is admittedly low.

Once I actually get my munchkin in the car, navigating through the intersection to get out of the school and on our way home is hit or miss. The vast majority of days result in a tight window to get through and get home. For a stretch, regardless of whether or not I made it though the light, I uttered a phrase that I should not have said in front of my daughter.

Before I knew it, every time we turned that corner into the intersection, she would yell out that same phrase. Not only did she say it, but she did so with a sense of anger and frustration in her voice.  Even worse, she started to yell out that same phrase whenever she dropped a snack or toy.

While we all make mistakes, this one made me feel like a failure of a father every time I heard those words come out of her mouth.

Time for some post game analysis

I reacted before thinking, and for what?

My actions didn’t make it any more likely to get through the light, nor was it the end of the world if we missed the light.

All it did was expose my 2 year old to something she didn’t need to be exposed to – my anger, lack of patience and of course, profanity.

Control the reaction

There is plenty to get frustrated about in this world if you let it….

Read or watch the news and you will find something to piss you off.  Or how about traffic jams? Metro / train delays? Get passed over for a promotion?  Someone steal your idea in the boardroom? Maybe you got cut off in traffic… for the third time today.

The reality is that most if not all of these things are outside of our control.  However we can control the reaction.

My boss recently reminded me of this while I was expressing my concerns over a series of potentially negative events at work.  He mentioned that he read about the stoics and they posit that events are not positive or negative, but rather it’s us that make them one way or the other.  That hit me hard, so I had to check it out.  The quote below from one of the stoic philosophers really drives the concept home:

“Man is disturbed not by things, but by the views he takes of them.” – Epictetus

Unfortunately it’s not a matter of just flipping a mental switch to be able to rationally and objectively process each and every stressor in life and respond with taking the highest road possible.

Yet, we can practice and we have an infinite number of opportunities to do so!

With that said, I can’t offer any definitive steps to solving this challenge.  However I can share some questions that I ask myself when I’m strong enough to take a step back in a stressful moment and think about my response:

  • If I offer up a negative reaction to what just happened, will it actually help?  Will I win the argument?  Will I get there faster or safer? [probably not!]
  • If I was offended by someone, was that actually their intention, or am I taking something personally because of what is going on in my own life? [give them the benefit of the doubt]
  • Can I really say I know what is going on in someone else’s life to cause them to act a certain way? [the answer is definitely ‘no’]
  • Would I be proud of my reaction (and myself) if I knew my children were watching me? [ALWAYS NO]

The vast majority of times I react (poorly) in the moment, but I strive to take greater control of that reaction each and every day.

In closing, I’ll toss out one more resource to help put the stresses of our world in perspective.  I just finished reading The Four Agreements by Dom Miguel Ruiz.  In that book he goes into great detail on making the following lessons the foundation of how we live our lives on a daily basis:

  • Be Impeccable with Your Word
  • Don’t Take Anything Personally
  • Don’t Make Assumptions
  • Always Do Your Best

Let’s take these lessons and the thoughts above to heart as we work to buck the trend of responding to negativity with more negativity.  Each time we succeed, we are making this world a better place.

Discussion Question

What have you found most useful to successfully react (or not react) in stressful situations?

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

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