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React or Respond?

Perhaps it’s the time of year, but I hear a lot of executives say they are feeling run-ragged by a pile of increasing commitments, and running from one thing to another.  Does it really have to be this way?  We say ‘no.’  This is reactivity and it can become a habit.  Being reactive gives us an adrenalin boost and short term feels good, because we are seen to ‘save the day’.

When we react to a situation, our behaviour is typically out of proportion to things that are happening around us.  We are probably calling on previous memories and associations and not from the facts of the situation.  Reacting is NOT the automatic unconscious competence based on 10,000 hours of practice; it is NOT spontaneity; it is NOT passion.  Reacting is NOT focus.  When we react, we feel an urgency, a lack of choice.  We may feel as though we’re going down a tunnel or blind alley which seems to get narrower and narrower with less and less visibility.

Conversely, when we respond, rather than react, our behaviour is based on conscious thought, the kind of thinking that considers options.  We are able to take a breath amidst the discomfort, to see and scan the choices.  This is the stuff that leadership is made of.

There are benefits in being reactive.  ‘Turning on a sixpence’ is highly prized in some industries such as FMCG.  After all, in doing so, you’re building a reputation for being agile and customer-oriented.  Reacting serves us well in crises where our safety and security is in jeopardy.

However, some of us over-use the reactive option when it doesn’t actually serve us or others.  It’s over-the-top for what has happened.  We’re not making it up, it’s our truth.

Why should we care what state we’re in?

Over-using the fight/flight reaction, leads to wearing us out, literally.  Too much adrenalin and cortisol inhibit the production of immune-giving white cell production.  Prolonged reactivity may also lead to mal-absorption of the nutrients from the food we eat.  Basically we get sick.

Another reason why we need to care what state we’re in, is that we use up valuable energy and head space that we could be using for other more long term benefit things, like strategy and planning.  Reacting too much, we end up being a ‘floor’ manager of a corporate show, whereas they pay us to be a leader for creating the direction and aligning people to implement it.


Here are some tips for a sustainable contented life style:

Most important, is to think on whether you really believe that you are able to and do deserve to have a contented life;

Breathe, and then pause to count 1, 2 and 3.  Quality breathing engages the prefrontal cortex, which is our powerhouse of thought;

Set yourself up for success by creating and sticking to a rigorous self-care routine: diet, exercise and sleep are good places to start;

Turn off your mobile phone and your email in-box for at least four hours a day;

Have ‘conversations that go places’ with a handful of trusted colleagues, i.e. conversations that give you energy rather than overhwelm you or end up in grand canyon gaps of understanding;

Self-coach and prepare for difficult situations by using the ‘three chairs’ technique: your view, their view and the birds-eye view.

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