How do you deal with situations and events that unexpectedly come into your life?
When you consider it, you really only have two choices…plenty of ‘options’ but only two choices; react or respond.
Those who react often are seen as brash, rash, or unprepared. They give the appearance of one who is easily flustered or distracted. Hiring managers look for individuals who can rapidly and accurately assess a situation and formulate an effective course of action.
Responding to an unexpected event or situation requires patience, practice, and a level of surety of purpose. In other words, you need to have done your homework. Although every contingency may not be accounted for, the most likely possibilities can nearly always be prepared for.
For example, recently I had the opportunity to candidate for my current teaching position. I was told that part of the process would be to teach a short 15 minute class on to a group of students and follow it up with Q&A session. My research told me that this institution was fairly technologically savvy, and that the position I was interviewing for required familiarity with technology in addition to my teaching ability. Also I knew the class had to be interesting and engaging. Obviously, lot to cram into 15 minutes.
Although I had been teaching for several years for another institution, the student demographics were different, and the expectations were high. Also, not knowing what any of the other candidates were teaching, I didn’t want to rehash something that was already taught. So, I prepared a brand new 15 –20 minute class (in case I started speaking too fast). Thinking ahead I brought my own laptop so as to avoid any technical issues…or so I thought.
Finally, Monday morning arrived and I went through the full day interview arriving at the pinnacle of the process, the teaching demonstration. When I set up my laptop I discovered the device for connecting to the classroom system was not working. Uh oh, potential disaster! Instead of reacting to the issue as obstruction, I responded to the moment as an opportunity to engage with the students longer, and moved on to the Q&A session with them.
About 15 minutes later, the technological issue was resolved, but by then the students and I had engaged engaged in meaningful dialog where we were discussing teaching philosophies, personal and professional experiences, and expectations. I did eventually teach the class and it was successful, but the impromptu interactions carried the day. Months later, after accepting the position, I learned that it was my response to the IT glitch that impressed the students and others that I would be a good fit.
WHY DO WE NATURALLY REACT RATHER THAN RESPOND?
Reaction is hardwired into our DNA. It’s what prevented early man from being a meal, rather than hunting for one. Why do you think a light, or noise heard in the house wakes you when everyone else is asleep? Survival instinct. This instinct is sometimes dulled or muted by alcohol, drugs, exhaustion, or complacency. While in some instances this could prove detrimental, in everyday situations it is less so.
This fight or flight response which still lingers in our genes and can be purposely controlled to our benefit, with purposeful practice and intentional effort.
HOW DO WE LEARN TO RESPOND?
Targeted, specific, and direct intentionality are required to overcome our natural reactive tendencies. Athletes and others describe it as building “muscle memory”. I have interpreted it as building “mental muscle memory”, although the techniques are very similar.
A technical explanation of muscle memory is “consolidating a specific motor task into memory through repetition” Edward Mills shares that mental muscle memory, or as he refers to it MMM, can contain good or bad habits which are only strengthened through replaying them in your mind. Examples incluse “I’m not smart enough”, “I’m not a good enough person”, or “I’m not thin enough”, etc.
These negative and destructive thoughts may have been developed during early childhood, but can be overcome and like a computer file – they can be written over and replaced with useful, positive or edifying thoughts. For more information on how to accomplish this I highly recommend Psycho-Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz
The late Zig Ziglar shared that in order to change you MUST begin by changing what goes into your mind. Are you aware of how much external media, news, and entertainment you you expose yourself to daily? Unfortunately the focus is on entertainment not education or enlightenment, which leaves many people having spent hours in front of the TV walking away with little to no improvement…they’ve added nothing of substance to their mind.
Now consider for a moment modifying what you read or listen to the first thing in the morning and as you spend 20+ minutes a day commuting from place to place.What if you invested that same time listening to an informative book on CD, or an inspirational podcast? You would intentionally be exposed to other options for responding to issues, events, or situations. You would hear successful practices from successful individuals with an authentic message to help improve your situation, your relationships, your finances, even your education!
Albert Einstein defined insanity as, “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. If you don’t like where you are, how you react instead of respond, and want to change your situation, you must begin by changing what goes into your mind!
Dr. Louis Pasteur echoes the huge benefits realized from being well read, educated on daily events and having an understanding of the world in which we live, instead of being solely limited to one subject/niche. He also famously said, “In the field of observation, chance favors the prepared mind.” By paying attention to what goes into our minds, we are better prepared to respond to the unexpected. Herein lies the secret to the successful and effective response… prior preparation of the mind.
Knowing without doing is worst than not knowing at all!
Without a doubt experience is an excellent teacher, but the reality is that we don’t have enough time in our lifetime to experience and thus learn every phenomena from every perspective. So we read, listen, observe, consider, question then DO! Regardless of your goals, aims or destination, you’ll never get there if you don’t begin DOing something.
Lao-Tzu, founder of Taoism is credited with the famous quote, “The longest journey begins with a single step.” That sentiment is as true today as it was centuries ago.
1. Be prepared to address the unexpected by renewing your mind and become more selective of the things you allow in.
2. Be vigilant in your daily dealings, as the late Ann Landers once said, “Opportunities are usually disguised as hard work, so most people don’t recognized them.”
3. Be willing to DO… not just know.
Following these simple guides will better enable you to train yourself to respond instead of simply react.
Armed with this new knowledge – what will you do?