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The Art of Underreacting

The Art of Underreacting is not an automatic ability, rather it’s a valuable trait that can be consciously developed over time.

Today’s society is very fast paced and with the numerous demands that are made on our time, money, our presence, emotions and other areas of our lives, we far too often have a limited ability and time to react properly. Our responses to the worlds’ interjections into our personal areas are more and more auto-responses based on our history with the particular problem or demand that comes to us.

Too many times a type of auto pilot sets in and takes us on a journey through the intricacies of the problem in a manner that many times isn’t the best, but it’s the one we know.

Now, some situations that are thrust upon us are actual emergencies, but most situations that come into our lives are not. They may be inconveniences that take us off schedule but most aren’t emergencies, they’re irritants and as is typical many times, we respond by letting our irritation take over, our emotions take charge. And unfortunately so often we’re like the cowboy in the old west who ran out of the saloon, jumped on his horse and rode off in all directions.

Many of us need to calm ourselves and think out the situation.


If our “autoresponses” are set to “upset” mode, then that’s how we react. So the question arises, “Can we reset our emotions to respond differently?” The answer is yes, without a doubt. It will take conscious reprogramming on our part but it can be done.

How We Address Unforeseen Problems – Types

Type 1 – Some of us are prone to take things as they come without getting all bent out of shape. We see variances in our schedules for what they are, inconveniences but not situations that are unmanageable. They just require us to vary our priorities for a time. Since these types are proactive, they calmly make the appropriate adjustments necessary, deal with it, then they simply get back on track. For this type that’s all there is to it.

This is proactive under-reaction that addresses the situation for what it is, not what it isn’t. Life is quite manageable for these types, and they calmly add another victory to their list. They feel quite good about themselves., not arrogant just a serene confidence that is always with them. You’ve seen the types, they don’t get bent out of shape, they calmly and therefore much more effectively handle the problem, then they go back to life as usual.

Type 2 – Some of us however get sent into a “tizzy” when something changes in our lives and it so bothers us that we immediatelycontrol overreact to the situation and cause it to spiral out of control and take on a dimension and power that it really doesn’t have. Still, since it’s our nature to “freak out” we abide by learned methods as if it is an emergency. We automatically allow it to upset us well beyond the situations’ actual ability to do so. Simply put, we give it more power than it has. If this is you, you’re not alone, we all do it from time to time, but most of us don’t make it a lifestyle.

Type 3 – Then there’s those among us that massively underreact to something that needs their attention. They do so by putting it on the back burner and let it simmer, and simmer and simmer until eventually, due to our refusal to deal with the problem, it boils over because our lack of addressing the situation in a reasonably immediate and logical manner, raises it to the level of an emergency and thus they become Type 1 people.

And almost every time, after we do address whatever it may be head on, we come to find that the concern we harbored was considerably less intrusive than the actual handling of the problem was. It wasn’t as big a deal as we thought and we feel pretty good about ourselves once we finish. But a lot of time and worry was wasted.

How Our Internal Programming Is Set

Usually how we deal with an unexpected situation is based on what makes us feel comfortable at the time. Most of the time, we do things because of how successful completion or delay makes us feel. We’re still operating on feelings and not cerebrally. One or the other must be made boss.

The problem arises when a response that we deem comfortable, whether it’s over the top behavior or massively under the top behavior, becomes typical for our life. That’s when our decision making processes become merely a series of hits and misses. Always remember that how we handle unplanned difficulties may, for us as individuals, be typical but it may not necessarily be healthy therefore not “normal,” so to speak.

When dealing with individuals, the term normal ebbs and flows based on the persons’ background, present circumstances, past traumas, hurts or past angers, skills, ad infinitum. mind programmingThis “normal” range varies according to these and other factors, but the benchmark of “normal” in terms of behaviors, will always be the response which affords us emotional peace while simultaneously addressing the problem directly. That doesn’t mean it may not cause us some degree of distress and the requirement to temporarily change our plans, but it doesn’t send us into therapy, so to speak.

In short, it’s just a temporary change in plans, that’s all.

Some times our autoresponses are built in by past situations in order to protect ourselves emotionally. That’s sensible unless the method we automatically take disengages us from healthy and more effective responses. If we’re sent into a period of moodiness, retraction from normal interactions with others or if we start to not engage on typical levels to keep us from hurts, rejections or emotional overloading, then it’s not “normal.”

It’s All About Balance

The Art of Underreacting is all about balance.

balanceI’ve talked with numerous people who express some degree of anxiety when something arises, and my first response to them is: “Ok, so what’s the problem?” They give me their immediate answer to which I (if a clear and responsible path to take isn’t obvious at this point), in some form, respond again with, “Ok, so what’s the problem?”

This may go on, requiring additional questioning, but it always comes back to “Ok, so what’s [the real] problem?” It takes time drill down because people wear a variety of costumes. And many times we both come to realize that the thing that has arisen is just an inconvenience or something that they simply don’t want to do. It’s not an actual earth-shattering emergency, it’s just an inconvenience,. Maybe a big one, but still just an inconvenience.

But what if it is an emergency? Then we learn, we teach ourselves, to respond immediately and directly and we keep in mind that few things last forever, there is an end. There’s absolutely no other option lest we continue to “go off the deep end” emotionally.

Don’t worry about the apparent simplicity of that statement, we’re going to talk about that in just a moment.

Simply Reacting vs Choosing Our Reactions

“Between stimulus and response there is a space.  In that space is our power to choose our response.  In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”   -Victor Frankl

When a problem or unfortunate situation arises, there is always the opportunity to proceed as usual or choose our response. Even when a problem arises quickly, seemingly out of nowhere, how we “come to grips” with the anomaly is based on either what we’re taught by life and on what we teach ourselves during life’s peculiarities.

Can we truly tell ourselves that our behaviors when confronted by the unforeseen are out of our control? Or is it a phrasing we use to try to give the situation more power than it really has and thus a justification for our poor or missing reactions? We need to look back on our lives and see if this behavior has been a pattern.

Whether we are victim or victor in our emotional, business and personal lives is based on how we perceive ourselves, our histories of dealing with problems and the true, the true seriousness of  problems.

Changing our auto-responses is challenging yet invigorating when we come to believe that the very nature, the basis of our personal life is in our own hands, and not in the hands of others or circumstances.

The direct approach to problem solving is always the best and it’s something we can teach ourselves to enjoy. The Art of Underreacting will provide peace to yourself and your co-workers, family and friends and move you along toward a sensible and more productive problem solving formula.

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