Over-reacting? Maybe It’s a Sign…
Argh. I hate it when things don’t go my way! Yesterday I wanted to get a basic prescription re-filled – one I’ve had re-filled dozens of times, and nothing seemed to go right. One place didn’t have it it – it would take days to order. I trekked to another place – they didn’t have it in. Their supplier is back-ordered, “can’t say when we’d get it”. The third place I went told me they needed two weeks notice (two weeks?!). What should’ve, in my mind, taken 15 minutes to do, cost me the better part of a day. I was highly agitated. My inner-toddler was throwing a big-time temper-tantrum. Didn’t these people know I had a lot to do? My perfectly scheduled schedule – totally ruined. Poor me!
Rather sad, don’t you think? How I let one normal situation have such an impact on my day, how I felt, and how I viewed the people around me? The funny thing was, on the way to drop off the prescription (at the first pharmacy), I was in a totally different mindset. I felt a sense peace as I gazed out on the beautiful the day. Felt grateful to have the freedom to run errands when I needed. Happy that I had posted my blog for the day. Life was good!
And then…BAM! Peace, gratitude, and happiness were obliterated by frustration, intense agitation, and self-centeredness. It was all about ME! MY schedule! They were disappointing ME!
Now, when I step back for a minute and let my rational brain look at this situation, I can see that it wasn’t a huge crisis. No one died. There were other pharmacies around. I had transportation to get there. It really wasn’t that big of a deal. But my insides didn’t know that. My insides were sending out a red alert.
The reason this blip in my life merits a blog post, is that we’ve all been there before. One of the joys of being human is that certain things cause us to get emotionally hijacked (what Emotional Intelligence guru Daniel Goleman refers to as the amygdala hijack, or (my personal favorite) an attack of what Seth Godin calls our “lizard brain”). Something happens that triggers us and the feelings ignited are much bigger than the situation merits, typically causing a strong reaction that we regret.
There are times I have regretted for sure. Memories of the nasty looks and snippy comments I’ve made when my lizard brain has taken over, don’t make me feel terribly proud. But yesterday shows I am learning! Change is possible! (cue: Hallelujah chorus!).
In the past, those poor pharmacists would have certainly known that I was mad, and I would have made sure that they knew that they were the reason why my day had been “ruined”! (Can you hear the drama in that?).
But I’m a victim of my amygdala no more! Thankfully, this time around I managed to keep my inner-turmoil in-check and was able to treat the poor pharmacists with the kindness and respect they deserve. No nasty looks. No snippy comments. I didn’t stuff the feelings – I knew that they were there, but I was aware that they were disproportionate. This time, instead of reacting, I got curious.
I’ve long believed that our feelings are guideposts. They lead us to understand ourselves better. The problem is, we often misread the signs. We’re interpreting things on a surface-level and reacting, instead of digging deeper for what is there at the core. Instead of making meaning of our feelings when we have them, what if we were to get curious about where they’re pointing us?
Why was my inner-reaction to the pharmacy-thing so huge? I got curious. What was really going on for me?
I thought about it. It wasn’t that the pharmacists didn’t care. They did. They were just doing their job. They weren’t trying to make it hard for me. In fact, they were doing everything they could to be helpful. As I looked at the situation closer I realized that, while in the past the pharmacists would have likely felt the brunt of my emotional over-reaction, the situation had nothing to do with the pharmacists. Nothing to do with the pharmacists and everything to do with my inability to control the situation.
My inability to control the situation. That was the trigger. (and a blog post for another day)
If I connect the dots in my life and map out the times I’ve over-reacted to situations, a great deal of them are when I’ve felt out of control. Having a clear understanding of this trigger changes everything.
One of the things that is so optimistic about the work that’s been done around Emotional Intelligence, is that it shows us that we don’t have to be victims to our own emotions. We can get curious, we can understand, and we can be better. As we uncover our triggers, the feelings may still come up, but our reactions can be contained.
Today, let’s find a way to stay curious about how we’re feeling and let that lead us to understanding, instead of reaction. Your team will thank you. Your family will thank you. And your local pharmacist might just thank you too.
©OnStage Leadership, 2013
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