How do you know that you’re caught in reactivity?

Most of us have been a ways down a course of behavior before we look up and say, “oh crap, how did I get here?!” After thirty minutes of ranting at a friend or yelling at our spouse, only then do we notice that we haven’t entirely been in charge of what we are doing or saying.

Maybe it’s anger that has you blowing your top at your kids. Maybe it’s sadness that’s queued up the tape of how terrible your life is and you lose the whole day to not feeling good enough to get out the door. Maybe it’s your inner critic rubbing your nose in all your shameful dirty laundry and you eat a box of cookies, trying to feel better.

an animated corgi with angry eyes and flames all around him

In all these scenarios, you’re caught up in a reaction that is running your show. Your highest self is definitely not in charge. And you probably find yourself doing or saying things you’re not proud of. It feels MISERABLE.

In her book Emotional Alchemy, Tara Bennett-Goleman shares that neuroscience has shown us there is a “magic quarter-second” where we can catch a thought or feeling BEFORE it sets off our chain reaction of physical experiences (like a rush of adrenaline, accelerated heart rate, and a tornado of thoughts).

That seems like such a tiny amount of time that you might think it’s ridiculous to even try to catch our reactions before they blow up.

But it’s something we CAN train ourselves to do.


gif of a cartoon brain with arms and legs. The feet have ballet slippers on and the legs are doing plié jumps. Credit: Kochstrasse™


Through a combination of practicing presence and actively investigating our Warning Signs, you can train yourself to notice when you’re just beginning to get triggered by something, in the same way you’ve learned to look at the sky to assess whether it’s going to rain.

There are three places you can look for your Warning Signs:

1. Your body.
Your body is full of animal instincts and it has clear cues when it comes to tracking your emotions. Just like you shiver when you’re cold or jump away when you touch a hot stove, you will get sensations in your body like nausea or tightness in your chest when an emotional reaction is rising.

2. Your thoughts.
When a reaction is beginning to rise, your brain will start trying to solve the problem and likely it will shift your thought patterns. They may become rapid and hard to track, or they might freeze or get foggy.

3. Your “negative mantra.”
When you are getting caught in a reaction, there is often a sentence that starts repeating itself in your head. It’s usually related to something you’re afraid of and trying to prevent from happening. For example, “I’m so stupid. Everyone’s gonna find out.” Or “It’s broken and it’s all my fault.” Or “Nobody hears me. I’m invisible.”


gif titled Know Your Warning Signs. Three animated bubbles titled Body, Thoughts, Negative Mantra. Body has a stick figure with eyeballs looking down and lightning bolts coming out of the sides of their body. Thoughts has a stick figure looking upward and three bubbles with questions marks hovering over them. Negative mantra has a stick figure with a sad face and mini angry faces swirling in a circle around it.


When you learn what your particular Warning Signs are, it becomes much easier to see your reactions coming on the horizon. And once you learn to spot them, you can make a plan to care for yourself with more compassion and grace, hopefully preventing the worst of the emotional storm.

In my group program Soul School, the first thing you’ll learn is what I call the Power Pause. This tool helps you regularly practice paying attention to your warning signs and then creating safe space inside to catch your reaction before it spins out of control.

My Soul School students put this skill into weekly practice while building further self-mastery skills on top of it. By the end of the 6 months, they’ve turned what used to be a difficult trick into an easy routine that helps them stay calm and thoughtful in hard situations.

It’s time for the good-hearted, deep souls to build the master skills to stay balanced and grounded in this messy world. Soul School has the training and support you need.


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