Stop reacting. Act.

Open your news app and see what happens everywhere. Whenever human beings encounter something that went wrong, they tend to react. Bombing? Ban burkinis. Kid died in a road accident? Build a roundabout. Patients died in an alternative medicine clinic? Restrict alternative therapy. Although all of the above might or might not be adequate responses, that’s not what I want to talk about. What I do want to talk about is our never ending desire to respond to mistakes. It seems that inaction is even worse than the wrong action. But is it?

I think that as a society we practice what psychologists call group think — an unquestionable idea shared by the whole group — in this case: “something needs to be done about that”. When the decision to react is made by politics, you can easily explain this by how media (and brains) work. They show news, show the politician stating that nothing needs to change will get less airtime and less attention. Just as people tend to focus on things that are new (even baby’s do that, it’s almost hardwired). Besides getting attention, it feels good to be able to do something about it — it gives a sense of control. But it’s a false sense of control and that need for control might end us up in more trouble than we started with.

So, what should we do? I’m not saying that we shouldn’t react anymore. What I am saying is that we need to consciously think before we act on our impulses. People in crisis management learn that as well: it’s always better to “waste” a minute or two by thinking about what is happening instead of just starting to run. In mindfulness, this is embodied in the following sequence. First, you encounter a situation that makes you uncomfortable in a way. Next, you focus your attention towards that feeling of discomfort and be aware of your urges. Perhaps you feel disgust and anger, and you are aware of the urge to take revenge. Next, you can think whatever the best response is and act accordingly. Revenge might still be a good idea, but it shouldn’t be done because of the feeling that something needs to be done now.

So, next time you encounter trouble: try to be okay with “no action” — not doing a thing might be as good a choice as any.

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