When the Shit Hits the Fan: Act, Don’t React

by Brian Brittain on December 19, 2019


Most of us get into trouble with each other interpersonally; when we leave no time between the stimulus and our response. The stimulus may be something someone else has said, or done, which triggers a bad feeling in us. We feel threatened in the moment and that triggers an automatic emotional response. Often, or usually, not a helpful one. For example, you tell me I am wrong. I feel hurt, then angry, then want to get even, and lash back. Our interpersonal polarization just got bigger. Trust is broken, and finding common ground just got more difficult.

We are all familiar with the clichés, count to ten or take a walk, or take a few deep breaths, think about what just happened, what your lizard brain just made up about what they said, come back to centre, and think about what a helpful response would be. All this easier said than done.

I want to show you how to take a few deep breaths, so that you quickly move into a position of strength and not emotional weakness.

There is a French word that perfectly holds this concept: sangfroid. A combination of the word sang, meaning blood, and froid, meaning cold, sangfroid literally means cold-blooded. What it really means, though, is the ability to stay calm in the face of chaos, when everything around you seems like it is heading south.

Remaining calm and thoughtful in the midst of chaos is not an innate trait, but is an acquired skill. This is what it means to be mindful, and what the mindfulness movement is all about.

If you don’t have a calming technique that works for you, consider trying “box breathing” which is designed to slow your heart, and help you calm your heart. This enables you to own your emotions rather than them owning you. You are back in control of the situation.

Box Breathing Technique

This is one simple and practical way to act and not just react. Try it.
1. Visualize a square, where each side of the square is one part of the breath.
2. Inhale across the top of the square for four counts.
3. Hold your breath for four counts as you move down the right side.
4. Exhale for four counts, as you move across the bottom.
5. Hold your breath for four counts as you move up the left side.
6. Repeat the cycle as necessary.
“The closer you are to calm, the closer you are to strength”.
Marcus Aurelius (Greek philosopher)

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