What do you do when you’re faced with a challenge in life? One generally recommends that you take a look inside and understand your own inner dynamics before taking outer action. But what if you really don’t know how to go about that? In this article, one focuses on reflection, self-awareness and taking responsibility for your reactions.
Start with the basics. If you want to understand yourself, you need to create some internal space for understanding by quieting some of the chatter in your mind. It’s easier to do if you find a setting where you can feel more peaceful. For some, it’s a quiet room; for others, it’s during a bike ride. It might even be in the shower. Identify for yourself where you do your best thinking and have the most clarity.
Once you’re in that setting, take some time to settle in, breathing calmly and noticing your breath, watching your thoughts and feelings, preparing yourself to explore the issue that’s on your mind.
Let’s say that you’re concerned about how angry someone makes you. Often we ruminate on such things, going over and over an unpleasant interaction in our heads. Instead, think about your reaction rather than what that person said or did. If your emotions seem out of proportion, consider reasons you may react so strongly. Fear is often a driver of anger — in this case, what, if anything, are you afraid of? Also think about other situations or people who trigger anger in you. You may have insights about underlying inner dynamics that will help you deal with this individual.
Look at where you place responsibility for your feelings. Have you ever used the phrase, “It makes me so mad when ... “? This common statement shifts ownership for emotions away from their true owner — you — and onto someone else. You then lose your power to manage a difficult situation.
Using this understanding, next consider what you think would be a more appropriate response. Rather than being angry, would you prefer to be able to think about the situation from that person’s point-of-view? Or just have some detachment so that you can manage the situation with more inner calm? Then, if you find yourself saying, “I get so angry when ...” you can decide if anger is the response that serves you, and you can use the alternatives you’ve considered.
Finally, look at your part in your relationship with this person. Have you done all you can to create positive, or at least low-stress, interactions?
You may find that you feel some inner resistance to looking at the situation in this new way. It may be uncomfortable to own that you have responsibility for your reactions and an ability to modulate them, rather than just pointing fingers at others when situations become difficult. But once you learn this skill, you’ll be able to use it whenever you’re in a challenging situation, and it will eventually become second nature. Those dealing with you will benefit, and so will you.
Liz Reyer is a certified coach with more than 20 years of business experience