We all operate along a continuum between rational and defensive behaviour.
When we’re feeling rational, we feel relaxed and positive. Physically, we are flexible, and this is also reflected in how we feel. Our minds are open, and we feel in control of our feelings and emotions. Our world feels ok!
When our defenses are triggered we start to become less flexible, emotionally and physically.
Everyone’s triggers are different – it could be anything from mild embarrassment to a genuine threat to our well-being.
We may feel our bodies tightening up – jaws, hands, posture. Our thoughts become more fixed and we are not as open to the world. Our emotions become narrower and we may focus on the negative. In short, as we become defensive, we become more rigid.
Where we are on the continuum corresponds to two important factors – the amount of awareness we have and the degree of choice we have.
When we are rational and flexible, we have a range of reactions and emotions to choose from. We have wide choice and wide awareness.
When we start to feel defensive, our degree of choice starts to diminish and, with it, our degree of awareness.
In extreme defensiveness, our degree of awareness has completely disappeared. When we hit this “point of no return”, we are on “autopilot”. We are stuck, and are probably not even aware of it!
Research has shown that, as stress goes up, our I.Q. can go down. This shows up in those moments when we walk away from a stressful conversation. For example when we can’t remember what the other person said or think to ourselves “Why didn’t I think of that at the time?”.
So how can we use the model to manage our responses and spend more time at the bottom of the triangle?
Firstly, by simply checking in with ourselves regularly, and questioning where we are on the continuum. In this way, we hit the pause button in our journey towards becoming defensive. As a result, we improve our degree of choice and remain as aware as possible.
Secondly, when we recognise those moments that we have moved ‘up the triangle’. We can identify our triggers, recognise our reactions and exercise more choice in managing our emotions before we move up the continuum.
Checking in is a great habit to build. Paying attention to your body, thoughts, and feelings, start today by asking yourself, “Where am I on the triangle?”