Friday, September 28, 2012

Mindfulness Can Help Decisions and Reactions

Okay, I was wrong. I realized it after I hung up the phone. What began as a simple conversation about a task quickly moved to an emotional reaction from me. After I realized what happened I'm more determined to practice mindfulness. You may be thinking, "what's he talking about?" Let me explain.

For the past few years I've worked with an international organization training their senior leaders. Part of the three day program is a very intensive segment I've labeled "business mindfulness." Essentially we teach these senior leaders to be aware of their own instantaneous reactions and question them, because initial reactions tend to be driven by their emotional brain.. Since the emotional part of the brain reacts approximately 80,000 times faster than the rational part it takes some work on mindfulness to understand the emotional underpinnings of our reactions and to stop from allowing the emotional brain to take over.

Any of us can learn this process. Initially we need to reflect any time we think we over-reacted to a situation or person and then process what is going on in our head; what are we feeling, assuming, judging etc. When we teach this process, this is the most difficult skill. We teach people to stop and listen to what is going on inside their head; what the emotions are and how they drove the reaction. Then we have to analyze if our reaction is correct. That's also challenging. It's easy for me to justify my reactions to most things. However, I've found when I talk to others about them, often they shed new light and I can see where I over-reacted.

So the conversation last night was about a task that was supposed to have been complete. It was my responsibility. Yet a vendor claimed that I had not supplied one of the key pieces of information they needed. They said it was not urgent, but could I send the information. I am still sure I had already sent it, but promised I would resend it. As a friend and I were talking about the situation I found myself getting angry at him and reacted to his "tone" on the call. After I ended the call I took a deep breath and listened to what was going on inside my head. My initial reaction was defensive because I felt attacked by my friend. However when I honestly admitted to myself that I overreacted to his tone, I realized that it felt so critical because I was already doing a great job of beating myself up about the task. (I can be really tough on myself). I uncovered that my reaction was based on how badly I had already made myself feel. So, I called my friend back and apologized.

Taking time to be mindful of your internal emotions is a key to better decisions whether at home or in business. Pause the next time you are about to make an important decision or you are about to reply in anger. Listen HONESTLY to what is driving the emotion and whether or not it is valid. Mindfulness is a great tool to help make us fully aware of what is going on at the moment. The more we practice it, the better we become. And of course, if you've already said something like I did, you might have to apologize.

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