I previously wrote about a situation that is familiar to all of us: we get triggered by an email or text message and we quickly fire off a reply, only to regret it. We get caught in what Tara Brach calls the “trance” of reactivity.
You don’t need a mindfulness teacher to tell you that when you notice the emotional reaction to a trigger, that’s the time to pause — to “take a beat,” as my stand-up comedy teacher says.
That doesn’t mean it’s easy to do.
Why is it so hard to pause?
Sometimes, we don’t even realize that we are in the trance. We get caught up and react, only to regret it after.
Other times, we may be aware of what’s happening in the moment but unable to stop ourselves in the process of reacting. We know we should take a pause, but the compulsion to act can be so strong that it overpowers us. It’s like we are riding on a runaway train: we desperately want to stop it but the brakes don’t seem to work. We feel helpless as we watch ourselves crash.
I’ve received a series of emails in the past week that have pushed my buttons, and I have found myself in constant reactivity. Although I avoided the fate of firing off a reply that I later regretted, I still got caught up in reaction. I felt under attack, and even though I refrained from responding, my emotional reaction to these attacks has hijacked my time and energy over the past few days.
The Impact of Reactivity
Getting caught up in reactivity doesn’t just impact us in that moment. Our reaction can create lingering mindset distortions.
The Archery Game
It can be easy to beat ourselves up when we get caught in reactivity.
If you’ve been studying mindfulness, you might feel like I should know better.
That self-judgment and self-aversion is what Tara Brach calls the “second arrow.” The idea is that getting pierced with the second arrow causes more pain than the initial puncture wound of the first arrow.
First arrow = getting caught in reactivity.
Second arrow = Thinking I should know better.
I call it the Archery Game because my tendency is to keep going. Why stop at two arrows when you can inflict more self-judgment and self-aversion at yourself?
If you teach mindfulness concepts to others, and if you value integrity, getting caught in reactivity can feel especially painful. (It’s likely not as painful to you if you don’t value integrity.)
A core piece of my productivity trainings for real estate agents is a workshop on how to create Drama-Free Deals. This cycle of reactivity creates drama. Anger and defensiveness hijacks our emotions, energy and time. It drains productivity.
I place a high value on integrity and “walking my talk.” So when I get caught up in reactivity, I hear the inner voice that questions my standing to teach this skill to others:
Who are you to teach this to others if you can’t even avoid it yourself?
This question is a favorite of the inner judge and a classic sign of imposter phenomenon. If left unchecked and unchallenged, it can sow seeds of doubt and inadequacy.
A Reminder of Human Nature
High standards are laudable, but a high standard must still be a human standard.
In a Daily Calm meditation earlier this week, Tamara Levitt shared a story of how she found herself in that familiar reactivity situation. She acknowledged the strength of the urge to fire off a reply.
As she said, it happens to all of us.
One of the things I appreciate most about teachers like Tara Brach and Tamara Levitt is that they are willing to acknowledge that they, too, still get caught in this trance of reactivity.
It reminds me that getting caught in the trance is human nature. It is inevitable.
So when it happens, instead of beating myself up over it I can appreciate my growth in how I handle it.
The past few days I’ve been under attack, but I rose above. I may have spent time and energy drafting many reply emails, but I didn’t send them. I claim and celebrate the wins I have.
I celebrate meeting a human standard.