One of the most common scenarios I encounter when working with entrepreneurs is tackling and dismantling ‘over-reactor’ syndrome.
Put simply, an overreaction is a heightened response to a perceived threat that causes a spike in adrenaline. The threat could be real, but is mostly imagined.
Many thousands of years ago this spike in adrenaline was great if we were trying to escape a lion.
In modern times, this spike in adrenaline does us more harm than good. It can occur every time you’re trying to solve daily work challenges and scenarios. The lion is no longer in the jungle. It’s inside your head.
Many entrepreneurs experience this on a daily basis.
So why do so many of us overreact to normal challenges and scenarios?
An overreaction is not something that is natural to us. It is a learnt behaviour that we pick up and model along the way, often through parents or siblings who struggled with their own coping mechanisms.
Tacit messages of reaction and drama are fed to us on a daily basis in our news items and, if we are not vigilant, become a key part of our reality. Empires within news media have been built on the back of creating drama whenever and wherever possible.
Think you don't overreact? Remember the last time you were facing a challenge and you uttered or thought any one of these statements (or similar).
“Why is this happening??”
“I can’t believe he is behaving like this!!”
“This just isn’t fair!!”
“I should be performing much better than this!”
“Why am I so stupid?!”
“Why do I make mistakes all the time?”
These statements and belief systems are driven by fear. We unknowingly embed these belief systems into our unconscious thinking until they become a part of the way we operate.
These belief systems first appear as cracks in our performance, mostly when we under pressure, being tested or challenged.
So given all of this, what can we do about all of this ‘overreacting’?
The simple answer is become aware of your reactions. If you are not conscious of the fact that you are over-reacting, how can you do anything about it?
It all starts with awareness.
You can cultivate awareness of your behaviour in a number of ways, but the most simple is to STOP, take a deep breath and notice what is going on at this moment.
What are you feeling? What are you experiencing?
Tightness in your chest, rapid or shallow breathing, tension in your body, an uneasy feeling in the stomach?
Connecting to your senses and bodily sensations through breathing is a healthy practice to cultivate presence and awareness. Feeling all of our emotions and sensations is a healthy thing and should be encouraged. The problem occurs when we behave and react from these heightened and tense states. We become irrational in our thinking and decision-making.
The simple act of becoming aware that you are overreacting, and coming back to your breath in a few deliberate slow and controlled motions, creates sufficient distance between you and the event; you and the overreaction.
Taking the time to stop and become aware of our behaviour gives us a choice to move from ‘reaction’ to ‘response’. A response is a clear, calm and rational course of action driven not by fear but by genuine belief and conviction.
So, here’s a little homework for you. Notice when you are ‘reacting’ to a situation or event. The moment you become aware, simply bring yourself back to the sensation and motion of your breath and ask yourself:
What is the best course of action?
Am I overreacting or responding?
Here’s one final piece of advice: don't beat yourself up if you overreact instead of responding. All of this stuff takes a little patience and a lot of practice.