Reactivity Steals IQ Points: What You Can Do About It

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Think back to the last time you felt REALLY threatened. Did you feel a haze of confusion set in? A feeling of being frozen? Your mind in temporary lock-down? Obsessing over something you said or did? Unreasonable black/white conclusions? Trying so hard to be right that you stumbled over yourself? Feeling spacey or disconnected from yourself? These are just a few reactions. They can be different from person to person but they all bring about a dangerous drop in your IQ. Usually at the time when you can least afford it.

Does the situation require this response?

No one is very smart when they feel threatened and the good old fight or flight reactions kick in. The adrenaline that you feel is designed to help you deal with basic survival: kill or be killed, attack or be attacked. In some situations a full-fledged fight or flight reaction may be warranted but more often the actual situation is not as threatening as your reaction would make it seem. For example, being in a job interview may be very stressful but it is not a situation where you are potentially going to be killed. Similarly, being questioned by your manager is not necessarily an attack, even though it may trigger the feeling of being attacked.

These examples of reactivity highlight a mismatch between the actual situation and the response to that situation. If the situation doesn’t require fight or flight, and you’re responding as though it does, your brain isn’t accurately processing what is in front of you. This leaves you unable to see, feel, hear and respond to the nuances of what is actually going on. In effect, you don’t have access to and can’t use the more complex, higher parts of your brain. When reactivity is high, it’s not pretty. But you can definitely do something to restore your brilliance.

Recognize the reactivity

You don’t have to be a slave to your reactions. Recognizing the intensity of your reaction to the actual situation is the first step. Ask yourself, “Is this reaction really warranted here? Is there any overkill going on here?” If your reaction is out of proportion, it is no doubt related to some other situation—not the one that is in front of you. For example if you feel like a child being berated by a parent when you receive even constructive feedback, you know you’re not in present time. Recognizing that you’re not responding reasonably in the here and now and that you’re being pulled into another time or place is a powerful first step.

Come back to reality

Once you recognize that that you’re going into a time-space warp you can catch yourself and say, “Wait a minute, I had better come back to the reality of what is right here.” Then you can focus more clearly on what actually IS going on. This will help your IQ start to increase again.

Where did I go?

In some cases though, the reactions are like well-worn grooves, that we repeat over an over again. With these recurring patterns, it is useful to stop and ask, What is really going on here? “What is this scenario I keep playing out again and again?” Exploring these patterns can help you understand what is behind the automatic responses and can keep you connected with here and now.

Return to connection

When reactivity takes over, connection with others and even with yourself, usually goes out the window. So, what is the way back? Reaching out to a friend, an intimate partner, a colleague, a coach, or mentor can all help bring you back to a grounded place again. Even a quick conversation can be so steadying. Once you’ve reconnected with yourself, you can more easily plug back into your full intelligence.

If your reactive tendencies set up feelings of distrust and fear of connection, it can be more challenging to turn to others for support. If so, it’s even more important to reach out and connect with others. It’s equally important to reach deep inside and connect with the core of who you are, your essence. Many people do this through activities like meditation, yoga, dance, walking, and journal writing.

When you return to yourself, you’ll breathe easier again and your IQ will return to normal. You might even find that you’re getting smarter as you go.

Do you feel like you’ve actually gotten smarter as you’ve worked through reactivity?

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Comments

  1. I think about those who are seeking a new job in this tough market. The stress reduces their ability to take those actions most effective when in transition such as networking, building a support group and engaging people on LI and other forums. Thanks for this, Barbara.

    Reply
    • Yes, Rita! Stress can be helpful in small doses, but when it activates and inflames reactive patterns, it’s so NOT helpful. The stress of looking for a job can then escalate and the person go into a downward spin. That’s why it’s been so important in my work, to focus on how to help people get out of the downward spin and into an upward spiral where they are connecting again in a productive way. Thank you for your response!

      Reply

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