19 October 2018 : The Secret to Slowing Down Your Negative Reactions

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I’ve been thinking lately about times when I’ve jumped to an incorrect conclusion.

Like everyone, I take information I have about an event and I respond to it. But when my responses are negative or hurtful, this can be bad. This is especially so when my reactions are based on faulty information.

So it’s helpful for me to learn to delay the time between an activating event, something that contributes to me feeling negative, and my reaction to it, thus reducing my tendency to jump to an unreasonable conclusion or act out.

That is, if I practice.

A few years ago, I learned of something called the ETR Model, ETR referring to Events, Thoughts, and Reactions, that can help with this.

The ETR Model suggests that our thoughts happen so fast in response to an event that we don’t recognize them as even happening. We go straight from the event to a reaction, and then blame the event, and other people, for our reactions. But it’s our thoughts about events that cause our reactions, not the events themselves.

I find such a perspective extraordinarily empowering.

For instance, if all day long I’ve been excited about coming home to a spaghetti dinner and find hamburgers on the menu, I’ll likely be disappointed. If my wife and I talked about having spaghetti in the morning and then for a reason unknown to me she made the change, I might even be angry with her.

I’ll say that the event, the change in menu, made me mad.

In reality, it is the thought I had about spaghetti, the anticipation of the meal, that led to my anger and disappointment. My daughter, who doesn’t really like spaghetti but loves hamburgers, would be having a completely different reaction when she gets home.

Some scenario. Different reaction. The only thing different is how my daughter and I think about the event.

So what we need to do when we find we are having a negative reaction to a situation, even those as potentially insignificant as what we’re having for dinner, is catch ourselves and identify the thoughts we are having. This gives us time to review and, potentially, reframe the event.

One way to reframe a situation is to consider it from another perspective. In my dinner scenario, I could remind myself how fortunate I am to come home to a meal being both available and prepared for me. I could tell myself how lucky I am to have a wife and daughter with whom I can share a meal.

It also helps to provide time for people to give us more information about an event before we react, thus contributing to our thought process. Again, using my dinner scenario, I might learn that my wife had had a challenging day and wasn’t able to go to the grocery store to pick up spaghetti.

What people often do, though, is let our anger out quickly and then externalize the blame, even feeling justified in the process. Unfortunately, once that happens we usually have a lot of clean-up work to do, and we might not feel like doing it. Now my wife is mad at me for not listening to her.

I bring this up because I think it’s one of the most important lessons we can learn in this era of quick reactions, polarization, and divisiveness. We need to practice slowing down our reactions to events that impact us, even those on a national or international level. As we practice doing this, it gets easier. The better we get at it, interestingly enough, the fewer events there are that trigger us.

When we slow down our anger and detach it from our responses, we decrease the amount of negativity being poured into the world.

This contributes to peace on earth.

For more on the ETR Model, check out this excellent resource. Intended to be used with children, I find it useful for adults, too.

I’ve written three other articles designed to help reduce negativity in these days of increased polarization:
There are People in the Country Besides Politicians
Befriend the Other
Recognizing Our Common Humanity with “Just Like Me” Awareness

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