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What emotional reactivity looks like

We have been talking about emotional reactivity in communication and the opposite of reactivity which is equanimity.

Before we talk about how to develop equanimity, let's get clear on recognizing reactivity.

Sometimes we think that if we are not screaming or shouting and we look calm, we are not reacting. But our calm surface might be covering up an internal storm. This is not equanimity.

Looking calm and being calm are two very different emotional states.

Emotional reactivity is as much about what is happening internally than it is what appears on the outside.

If we are having negative thoughts and ruminating about what someone has said, we may be internalizing or "imploding" rather than exploding which is equally unhealthy. Equanimity is not about gritting your teeth and bearing it.

If we shutdown or stonewall during a stressful conversation, we are anything but calm. We are using emotional distance as a way of managing our reactivity which will hurt us and our relationships.

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Equanimity

The opposite of emotional reactivity is a state called equanimity which means mental or emotional stability or composure, especially under tension or strain; it is a state of calmness or equilibrium.

Equanimity is a fancy word with a simple meaning: it means that we are not "triggered" by what others do or say. That we can exhibit calm in the midst of chaos. That we can live our life based on our own values and principles rather than let what others do or say control us.

Think of it this way: if you throw a pebble in a small bowl of water, it will cause large ripples. So large in fact, that some water might spill out of the bowl. Now if you take the same pebble and throw in into a larger bowl, the ripples will be smaller while the very same pebble will cause hardly any ripples at all in the lake or the sea.

What changed was not the force of the throw or the size of the stone but rather the increased capacity of the body of water to bear the disturbance caused by the throwing of the...

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Emotional reactivity in communication

Do you ever notice yourself getting "triggered" in conversation? Being triggered is when the person you are communicating with says or does something that causes an intense emotional reaction in you. The trigger usually causes you to say or do something that is generally out of proportion to what the other said or did. In other words, you 'overreact'.

The problem with emotional reactivity is this: when our words or actions are triggered by something or someone outside our self, they are usually not in alignment with our values. Instead, these words come as a reaction to someone else's words or behavior. It is as if we have given the remote control of our words and actions in someone else's hands.

If you are still wondering what we are talking about, let us take a few examples of things that we say when we are triggered:

You make me angry
Don't make me hit you
You are making me scream

Sentences such as these imply that someone else - "you" - controls my behavior. They put the...

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Foundations of mindful communication – Recap

Today let us remind ourselves about the five foundations of mindful communication that we have discussed.

To practice mindful communication,

1) Get in touch with your intention. Cultivate positive intentions for your communication and remind yourselves of these before you engage in conversation with others
2) Have an attitude of curiosity and compassion. An attitude of curiosity helps us listen better and get to know people while judgmental attitudes block communication.
3) Be willing to learn and to act. Change and growth means that we are open to learning new ways and willing to act on our learning and put it into practice.
4) Practice self awareness. Shine the light of awareness on how you interact with others and be open to feedback.
5) Be mindfully present, which means having your attention in the same place where your body is.

Which foundation do you find the most challenging?

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Bring mindful presence to your interactions

The fifth and final foundation of mindful communication is mindful presence.

What is mindful presence? In the context that we are talking about, it means to have your mind and your attention and your body all in the same place. Sounds simple, right?

Being mindfully present where you are physically is rather challenging in modern times. This is because we have so many things to distract us all the time.

Think of all the times when you talk to people or do things during the day but realise only after you have done them that you have no memory of what you did or said. This is because while we are doing our daily actions or conversing with people that we speak to regularly, our attention is somewhere quite different. Many of us live with background noise of the TV or devices on all the time. Or we are so hooked to our devices that we are connected with those who may be far away from us physically while not connected to those who are right beside us.

Do you know what I'm talking about?

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Opening the window of insight into ourselves

One of the most effective tools for developing self-awareness and opening up lines of communication with others is the Johari Window.

Invented by Psychologists Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham, the Johari Window (cleverly named by combining the first names of its developers!) helps us to become more self-aware and shines the light on parts of ourselves that we may be unaware of, but which may be impacting ourselves and our relationships.

The premise behind Johari's Window is that there are certain things which we know, and things we do not know about ourselves. Similarly, there are certain things others know and do not know about us. Johari's window attempts to help us see that there may be major aspects of our own personality that we are unaware of.

The premise is that there are four areas of our identity: a public self that is known to ourselves and to others (such as our obvious likes and dislikes and personality traits), a private self known only to us and not to others (things that...

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Practice self awareness

Continuing our discussion on foundations for mindful communication, today let us talk about self awareness.

"Self-awareness" is a phrase we often hear in spiritual contexts. There is a famous Islamic narration which goes: "He who knows himself, knows God". In other words, to become aware of God and His magnificence, we must become aware of ourselves.

So far so good. But what on earth does it actually mean to be "self-aware"?

Self Awareness means having a clear perception of your personality, including strengths, weaknesses, thoughts, beliefs, motivation, and emotions. It is, in essence, the ability to become an observer of oneself, to consider our own selves from a somewhat objective perspective.

Without self-awareness, we are full of "blind-spots" – we have no real idea of our own strengths or where our challenges lay. Without self-awareness, we tend to have little agency or control over own thoughts and emotions, and live in a reactionary mode most of the time. Without self...

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When it comes to reforming communication, remember the four Rs

Yesterday we talked about how acknowledging our need to learn new ways to communicate is one of the foundations of mindful communication.

Today, lets deepen this conversation just a little more.

How do we know that we need to work on something, in the first place?

"Remember that Reform starts with the four Rs"

1) Reminder – everything in our environment can act as a reminder if we let it. We hear an inspirational story, a lecture, an article or even a social media post. This reminder confirms what is true within our nature. It makes sense because the knowledge of what works and what doesn't is already hardwired into us. This one reason why inspirational quotes are so inspirational – they eloquently express what we feel and know to be true within.

For example, here is a quote about the power of words:
Words are singularly the most powerful force available to humanity. We can choose to use this force constructively with words of encouragement, or destructively using words...

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Have a willingness to learn and to act

Continuing with the foundations of mindful communication . . .

Do you know the difference between between someone who is behaving in a certain way and someone who IS a certain way?

It is a persistent unwillingness to learn and to change or grow.

All of us lack skills in certain areas of our lives, including communication. This is not problematic AT ALL.

What causes problems is when we refuse to learn from our mistakes, from feedback of those around us and to change our behavior in response.

When we tell ourselves or those around us things such as

This is who I am
I am not one for expressing my feelings. I'm just not comfortable with it.
I am too old to change
I am not going to change so get used to it
I have always talked like this
Everyone in my family raises their voices – what is the big deal?

. . . or any version of the above . . .

We are blocking our own path to growth and losing chances to make our relationships and our lives better.

Acknowledging that we may have something...

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Get in touch with your intention

Before we start looking at the communication skills, let us explore the foundations of mindful communication.

Mindful communication, as we said yesterday, begins in the heart and so the first step in learning to communicate mindfully is to become conscious of your intention when you speak and listen.
And then begin to set intentions for all your conversations.

Setting intentions for our communication is a powerful exercise. Intentions determine the full consequences of our thoughts, words, and actions. It is our intentions which form the spirit of our activities and the emotional tone of our efforts.

From an Islamic spiritual perspective, intentions form the foundation of all acts of worship. Without the intention, even prayer does not qualify as an act of worship. And conversely, by setting an appropriate intention, any act of everyday living can become an act of worship.

This implies that two actions which look apparently identical, will be different in spirit depending on the...

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