By Meg Dennison

Becoming a conscious leader is a journey of self-awareness. Leaders who notice when they’re getting triggered and know how to stop themselves can reclaim their inner balance.

Reactivity comes from fear

The same primal reaction that saved our ancestors from a saber tooth tiger is activated when the boss looks at us funny. The danger is dramatically different, but in both situations our system is flooded with stress hormones. Those  hormones tell us to fight or run away. Along with sweaty palms and rapid breathing, our vision narrows, and so do our choices for action. We are simply reacting without thinking.

What does a conscious leader do in the heat of the moment? What about in the grip of reactivity when it seems impossible to stop cascading thoughts and emotions?

Three Steps Leaders Take To Recover From Reactivity:

       Pause and Breathe

  1. Stop. Take a breath. Pause and maybe count to 10 (remember that one?). Breath is always available. Try  four slow, deep breaths from the belly (push your belly out while inhaling). It’s often enough to interrupt the fear response and begin the process of calming down.


  2. Move your body. Then ground yourself with physical movements that match your expression of fear. That will help dissipate the fear hormones. If you usually run away (in reality or just in your head), squeeze your hands on your thighs (at a meeting, do a micro version under the table). Even if you don’t actually throw a punch, you may notice how your body moves forward and your chin juts out as if fighting. To counter this reflex, soften your body, especially your shoulders, neck and hands. It helps to have a mental image. perhaps something like hot chocolate sauce melting ice cream.

    Train For Resilience

  3. Leaders who boost their ability to respond instead of react create resilience by training for it. Think of it as a mental gym. Start out slowly and build up with daily practice. One way is to learn to meditate. I ask all my clients to meditate 10 minutes a day. You don’t have to be go to a mountain top. Even a short mediation practice helps you learn to let go of stressful thoughts. So try Headspace, Insight Timer and other meditation apps like Buddhify.

These tools work when we practice them. You wouldn’t run a marathon without training. You can’t expect to remember to breathe, pause and interrupt yourself in the moment without practicing.

Know your own personal recipe for reactivity

Leaders who already know what they will believe, say and feel in a reactive state recognize it quickly. They pause to interrupt the pattern and use their tools to move through the fear and take charge of their reaction.

Download Your Reactivity Recipe here and find out how you mix up fear and distrust and what to do about it.

Photo courtesy of Amanda Hirsch, Creative Commons