3 Strategies to Shift From Being Reactive to Responsive

Most people see change as difficult and automatically resist it even if it could benefit them.  Do you see change as difficult? Are you resisting it?

When people resist change, it’s often because they fear the unknown and what could result from the change.  In this act of resistance, we activate a neurobiological stress in the body. As human beings, we are biologically wired to enter a stress response when we encounter a situation that makes us anxious or afraid.  Under stress, the sympathetic nervous system sends a signal to the brain’s prefrontal cortex command center. Then the brain responds by diverting the body’s attention to a “fight, flight or freeze” survival mode.  In this mode, we are often unable to skillfully respond to a person or situation. We move into a “reactive mode” and often do or say things that are unhelpful.

As a leader, when you are in a reactive state you are simply not at your best.  Your thinking is reduced, your stress hormones are increased and your decision-making capability is impaired.  There are five key shifts you can make to move out of a reactive mode into a more responsive move that is productive and will get better results.

To shift from reactive to responsive, it’s important to understand that it is not simply a mindset shift.  In fact, it’s quite the opposite. It’s a full body (or we would say somatic which means “whole body) shift that is required.  You need to include both the mind and the body to make shift quickly. Here are three strategies so you can shift away from being reactive into being responsive:

  1. Notice the Signs of Reactivity - Many people are not even aware when they are in a reactive state and are triggered by a person or situation.  One of the first strategies is to begin to notice the signs. The signs include lack of focus, a feeling to either push or shut down, impatience, anxiety, shallow breathing and/or muscle constriction (often in the neck, chest or belly).
  2. Pause - When you become aware of that “amped up” feeling in your mind and body (which does take some practice to notice), intentionally pause.  Slow down, pause and take note of what is happening. You may want to label it “reactivity.”
  3. Interrupt Reactivity with a Deep Breath - The fastest way to interrupt the stress response and neurobiological patterns is to take a deep breath from your belly.  In doing so, you signal to the mind and body that you’ve noted the reaction and are resourcing yourself so you can move from reactive to responsive. The entire soma (whole body) notes this and course corrects very quickly.

Experiment with the three strategies in the upcoming week to shift from reactivity to responsiveness.  When you move out of the fight, flight or freeze pattern and into a more calm responsive pattern, you have access to more functioning in your brain which results in better thinking, decision-making and problem-solving.

In addition to these strategies, take a moment to look at the Weekly Uplevel Practice below to explore the roots of reactivity.

Let us know how things go!

Weekly Uplevel Practice

As a complement to the three strategies shared above, take time this week to explore the following questions:

  1. When do I tend to be most reactive?  Is there a certain person or situation that evokes that in me?
  2. What are my most common reactions to stress and pressure? What do I think?  What actions do I take (or not take)?
  3. Where could I be more responsive rather than reactive?  What would the benefit be?

Now take time to reflect on these questions, notice both your thoughts and feelings, then work with the three strategies above to make the shift at least three times this week.