Now, assuming we can agree that we are NOT rational, but emotional beings (which every ad agency in America figured out long before we did), the question becomes:
Does our emotional reactivity help us -- or hinder us -- in our quest to build lives of achievement, satisfaction and meaning?
I would argue, after working on both my own shit and that of various clients, that our emotional reactions tend to get in the way more than they help us get what we want.
Let's look at how this works with an example:
Say your boss flings open the door to your office and starts yelling about those godforsaken TPS reports. The vein in his neck is bulging out from under the piano-key necktie he wears every Friday, the one with the faint coffee stain he never seems to notice.
These pieces of DATA trigger an old, pre-wired STORY in your mind about bullies, and how you will never cow-tow to them.
This story triggers FEELINGS of victimhood, defensiveness and self-righteousness.
And these feelings cause you to take ACTION by telling your boss exactly where he can stick those TPS reports.
Which unfortunately results in you getting fired -- an outcome you definitely did NOT set out to achieve when you were eating your cereal this morning.
Now, let's take a closer look at what happened:
Your boss came in with his boatload of negative emotional energy.
His energy flooded your space and pressed your story-buttons around bullies.
And before you knew it, your subconscious programming supplied you with the appropriate action to take in the face of a bully.
And later on, that's ALL you'll remember -- the action you took, and the unfortunate results it got you.
What you will almost certainly NOT remember is the FEELING that gave rise to the action.
Which is exactly what we need to look at, if we want to short-circuit our old story programming and find a better way forward.
The first step is to simply notice WHICH feelings give rise to misguided action.
One way to approach this task is rationally, by asking ourselves in retrospect: what was it I was feeling that made me react in this counterproductive way?
(... This MIGHT lead us to recognize our subconscious stories about bullies and the attendant feelings of victimization and self-righteousness that led us to act poorly... or -- if we are especially talented at self-delusion, which MOST of us are -- it may not.)
Alternatively, we can look to our physical bodies for guidance.
Because, as your subconscious stories trigger feelings within you, those feelings in turn trigger extremely subtle changes in your physical body.
Your jaw locks. Your stomach clenches. Your shoulders tense. Your eyebrows shoot up to the top of their range.
A contorted physical position is the tell-tale precursor to an emotional, irrational, may-later-regret-this kind of reaction.
If you want to short-circuit your own reactive pattern, ask yourself: What happens in my body, as I am reacting poorly? How long does it last? And...
Where ELSE have I felt that way?
If you pay attention, you might start to notice PATTERNS in the circumstances and events that cause your body to contract in this way.
... Which is the first step toward short-circuiting your habituated responses to them.
I promised it was uncomplicated -- that doesn't make it easy.
The real challenge arises when you consider how un-accustomed our minds are to paying attention to what's happening in our physical bodies.
The world around us is so endlessly distracting, so full of information and opportunity, that we rarely take the time to notice how contracted our physical form has become when faced with a sudden (or chronic) stressor.
This week, I invite you to start nurturing your own embodied-awareness. Just make a habit of asking yourself: Where in my body am I holding tension?
Set an alarm for three times a day (perhaps to coincide with water, coffee or walking breaks) and do a thorough scan, from head to toe.
When you encounter tension, give it a name: "my shoulders are tense," or "my jaw is tight;" and then hazard a guess as to which emotion the physical sensation might correlate to. Then, take note of the STORIES -- as distinct from the data -- that are causing these emotions.
By itself, this practice can help you generate a healing form of awareness that can help you identify the situations that tend to trigger an emotional reaction for you, moving forward.
With practice and commitment, when faced with other people's tantrums, it can help you catch yourself, breathe, and relax -- before you even open your mouth at all.