How to Slow Down and Stop Reacting

As human beings, we consistently and automatically think!  With millions of neurons firings every second, creating thousands of thoughts every day,  we unconsciously make up stories and create meaning all the time.  We fill in the blanks and tell ourselves stories when we don’t know what really happened or what is really true.  All of us are moving at a very fast pace.  We need to slow down and stop reacting.

Imagination could be a word we use for this phenomenon.  Of course, original creativity as well as  scientific theories come from an active imagination.  However,  this form of storytelling in the mind happens without us even knowing it’s going on.   Frequently, this hidden, false information is damaging  our relationships and our effectiveness as leaders.

Dr. Robert Burton in his book, On Being Certain, states:  “Despite how certainty feels, it is neither a conscious choice nor even a thought process. Certainty and similar states of “knowing what we know” are sensations that feel like thoughts, but arise out of involuntary brain mechanisms that function independently of reason.”

Wow! Sensations without reason that feel like thoughts are turned into meaning and actions.  If we consider that thought precedes all action, we can see how these unconscious, automatic sensations are controlling us!

We believe the multitude of thoughts that pop into our heads without questioning their validity or relevance.   Then, we unskillfully act based on these falsehoods and are sabotaged and controlled by our own minds.  The case for self-awareness in leadership is clear.  We can learn how to see dominant thoughts and patterns with specific practice.  Awareness gives us the ability to see our default thinking and behaviors before reacting from auto-pilot.

3 Ways to Slow Down and Stop Reacting

  1. Take a Break  Consciously pause between thought and action to slow down the process.  We can stop the automatic patterns of reaction by taking a break.  You can watch as you learn new information from others or from your own mind what happens between the stimulus and response.
  2. Be Curious   Bring curiosity and listening with an open mind to everything.  Knowing that we are making up stories and filling in the blanks, it’s critical to question everything.  We not only need to be curious about what others are thinking and doing, and maybe even more importantly, we need to be curious about what is going on in our minds.
  3. Be Silent  Create a time each day to be silent.  Even if it’s only for a minute, just sit, stand, or walk, turn everything off, stop reading, and rest your mind.  It’s the best for stress reduction and helps the entire body take a break. 

By practicing these 3 techniques daily, the light will begin to shine on the internal darkness by making some cracks in the internal world of the mind.   With small steps in awareness, you will receive some immediate benefits of lower stress, more informed behavior, and much improved listening skills inside and out.  You will be in the pilot seat and choose how to act instead of reacting involuntarily.

For more on how to practice awareness of thoughts:

R. Schroyer