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Feeling Reactive? Here’s How to Get Back to Consciousness 

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In eighth grade, I had the full junior high experience. Two girls who had been my best friends ditched me and left me in the dust. Teenage wrath bubbled up inside me.  I threw my pear on the ground, splattering fruit everywhere and it barely missed my friend’s Birkenstock. My heart racing, I looked at my friend’s face. 

Her expression was sheer shock and  I realized what I had done. I still felt all the anger, but I also felt the feeling of power drain from my body. 

And that happens, doesn’t it? 

At work, we sometimes react. It happens at home a lot more. 

Why? And what do we do when that happens to repair? 

Sometimes our reactivity is more drawn out and we don’t even realize we’re doing it. It’s almost as if we drift from being conscious and zone out. 

There are lots of different ways that this can look, and when we do that, we don’t have access to the here and now. And we can’t be effective.

Let’s explore these reactive behaviors and drift moves. I’m not going to give you any easy solutions right off the bat. The first step in long-term sustainable growth that is transformative is self-awareness. 

I’m not here to fix your problems. I’m here to give you tools and empower you.

Are You Being Reactive or Conscious?

This very simple question is so powerful. 

Am I being reactive right now or am I being conscious? 

Being reactive, by the way, is another way to talk about being Below the Line. When you’re Below the Line, you’re being reactive. You’re not present, you’re not conscious. You’re a non-conscious leader at that point and you’re probably creating a lot of Drama and havoc in your life without realizing it. 

When you’re being reactive, it might look a bunch of different ways. 

Picture the last time that you got triggered. Something either really made you mad or terrified you or made you all of a sudden just break into pieces and start bawling, or you just were turned off and disgusted. 

All of these are when you’re triggered. Picture that last time that happened. Put yourself there in that moment. 

What came next? What happened? What was your knee-jerk reaction? 

You didn’t necessarily even choose to do it. The lack of choice is what makes this a non-conscious reaction, and typically you have some patterns around this. Each of us has learned our Below the Line toolkit, our coping strategy, and our way of discharging some energy or bottling up some feelings, and almost always it works against us.

Drift Moves

There are some common ways we drift from consciousness or get reactive. You might even recognize that these are things that you do every single day. 

One of them is emailing. Do you do this? You just had an uncomfortable conversation. You don’t want to deal with those feelings so you’re going to get distracted with email.  You’re going to leave the present moment and go into some message that was written in the past and write some message that’ll be sent in the future. 

It’s reactive. You swear that you didn’t choose to pick up your phone. It happened. It happened to you. Does that story sound familiar?  Reactive means you feel like life is happening TO you.

Some Common Drift Moves:

  • Arguing
  • Chronic emailing
  • Overworking
  • Cleaning 
  • Social Media
  • Organizing
  • Drinking
  • Procrastinating
  • Rehearsing
  • Shopping 
  • TV
  • Spacing out
  • Venting 
  • Worrying 
  • And more…

I want to highlight worrying. 

Did you know that when you’re worried about something, you are trying to avoid something? 

When you’re worrying, it is not helping you to get anything done and worry has become such a part of our culture. It’s constantly reinforced by the media, which is presenting fears in our faces often first thing in the morning with your cup of Joe, which is why I do not check the news in the morning. 

If you’re simply worrying and not doing anything about it, you’re not being effective. You’re not owning your power because there is a lot you can do. When you’re worrying, you’re also eroding your energy. It’s damaging to your nervous system. It makes you more prone to being more reactive. It takes you away from presence

You’re not present when you’re worrying because worrying by definition means you’re focused on something that might be happening in the not here, not now. 

You’re worrying about something that might happen or that will happen. You’re worried about something that maybe did happen before. You’re worrying about what somebody else thinks. That’s radically different from being here in the present moment, right now. 

We’ve normalized worrying like we’ve normalized busyness in our culture. And while it is quite normal to do, I think we have a big addiction to worrying in our culture and we don’t address it as the corrosive force that it is. So if you are a worrier, and I certainly have been one, I love you. It’s okay. 

You don’t need to worry about being a worrier. Don’t go into Drama about being in drama. Just pause and take note that when you’re worrying you’re not present. 

Can You Make Your Drift Moves Conscious?

After learning what drift moves and being reactive can look like you may be asking yourself does that mean every time I’m emailing or cleaning that I’m being reactive? Am I always drifting from presence? 

Absolutely not. 

Cleaning can be a great way to RETURN to presence. Emailing is something you can choose to do consciously! 

How do you know if you’re doing it consciously or unconsciously? 

One way is to check in with your body. 

Are you in a state of ease and flow? Do you feel alive, fully alive? Are you present to all of your feelings? All of this would indicate that you are present. 

The opposite of this would indicate that you are most likely Below the Line and not present. If there’s some tension in your body, typically that means you are trying to avoid a specific feeling or even a nonspecific feeling. There’s something that you’re not facing. 

Are you thinking about what’s in the here and now and what you can do about it, or are you ruminating or worrying? Ruminating would indicate you’re not in the present and that means you’re not doing these behaviors consciously.

Another question you can ask yourself is, did I choose to do this? Think back to when you started doing this behavior.  

Do you remember making a conscious choice and perhaps considering other options or making a choice about how long you would like to be doing this? 

Consider why you are doing it. What’s your objective? 

Often we dive into getting stuff done without even clarity of what’s our vision, where are we trying to go. 

Above the Line, you’re very aware of what you want. You’re aware of your vision. That’s one of the key skills of being a creator of your own life. 

So all of those would be indicators that you’re either doing something from presence or from Below the Line reactivity.

This isn’t something you master overnight. Often these drift moves are patterned behavior that comes from raw, sensitive parts of ourselves. 

The fight with my friends during childhood was a pretty scarring event in my life, and I allowed it to shape my confidence going into high school. It stayed with me for quite a while and when something reminds me of that event I am much more likely to get reactive. 

The difference now is that when that happens I’m now aware that it’s connecting a little bit to that story, that memory. And so I can consciously choose to say, is that really what’s happening right now in the present? I give myself a big hug and say, “It’s okay. We all get hurt sometimes. This reminds me of that. It’s not happening now. This is not that fight.” 

From a place of awareness, you can start to get back to presence and move Above the Line. 

You are Allowed to be a full human being who sometimes gets reactive, and you’re Allowed to learn how to shift.

How to Shift Into Consciousness

When you notice that you have drifted, you have options. You always have a choice. 

How do you solve it? 

You’ve drifted, now you shift.

Shifting is a key concept in conscious leadership, and the only way that you can access the shift is if you are self-aware first. With that self-awareness, you can choose to shift and master that skill.  

There are two big categories of shift moves and within each, there are hundreds of possibilities- changing your body and changing your consciousness. 

Shift Your Body

Change your breath 

There are different ways you can structure your breath, like extending your exhale, making it longer than your inhale for instance. That will change my nervous system’s response to anything, including your own thoughts. 

Change your posture

When your posture is centered and aligned, it literally centers and aligns you. All of these words that seem to be metaphorical in the way that we describe our bodies truly can describe your entire experience. When I finally learned to align my posture, I found myself looking to address other areas of my life that were out of alignment. I stopped losing my balance in an emotional sense. That all started with aligning my body and changing my posture. 

State Shifting 

State-shifting is one of my favorite ways to get back into presence. You go into the opposite state of the one you are currently in.

Hot to cold

Movement to stillness 

Loud to quiet

Dry to water…vice-versa. 

By rapidly shifting your body into another state, you can connect to your body and focus on how it feels, allowing you to be present. 

Shift Your Consciousness

Get Unarguable

Here are some examples of how you can change your consciousness, also known in conscious leadership as your context.

When you’re being reactive, it feels like everything’s happening to you. You’re drifting from presence. You’re not here and now. 

You can bring yourself right back to the present by getting unarguable. 

Getting unarguable means grounding yourself in factual reality. 

What the heck do I mean by that?

What I mean is for you to notice what your outer world is with your senses. Connect to the reality of your outer world. Acknowledge your external environment, and search for things that are in the here and now. 

You can also notice things internally and this would include your emotions, body sensations, and for the advanced mindful among us, the quality and nature of your thoughts. 

The unarguable is your body sensations, emotions, and thoughts. The unarguable is what is objectively true and if you were recording with a camera, the camera would reveal the present moment. 

Shift into Appreciation and Wonder

The last thing you can do to change your consciousness is to intentionally shift into appreciation and wonder. 

What can you appreciate about this moment? 

What can you appreciate about what you’re learning? 

What can you just be in awe of and wonder about and notice the bizarre and incredible nature of life? How often it’s chaotic and how it presents us with these challenges that we can learn from. 

There’s so much that we can have wonder and appreciation about.

Photography by Kelley Raye //

Dr. Caneel Joyce is a CEO Coach and social scientist who helps people break out of the invisible traps and make whole-life changes easily and naturally.

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