When met with an unexpected situation, do you react or respond? And what is the difference? According to Dr. Matt James, while some people use the words interchangeably, there is a world of difference in their meanings. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/focus-forgiveness/201609/react-vs-respond Tony shares a story of showing up late to a recent speaking opportunity where he learned whether or not he was more prone to reaction or response.
Tony shares the results of taking the Implicit Association Test (IAT) https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/ and discusses how understanding how we give meaning to certain people and situations contributes to how we react or how we respond. And Tony also references Marshal Rosenberg’s book “Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life: Life-Changing Tools for Healthy Relationships (Nonviolent Communication Guides)” https://amzn.to/3EjVZkx
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Over the past weekend I was in Arizona and I was going to speak to a large group of single adults from ages 30 and above. And let me just tell you that I've done a lot of speaking in my day and on these types of events, I just make an assumption that the event starts at 7:00pm. So I truly assumed that the presentation was at seven. Now, why? Well, just because, and thankfully the organizer of the event texted me at 4:45 and said, “Hey, I'll see you soon.” Now, let me read you the text that followed. So at 4:46, I responded back “Absolutely. 7:00pm I'm assuming, hoping, guessing haha I realized that as I scrolled through our texts, that I have not seen a time. So I really hope that that's the case. I'm a little over an hour from Casa Grande,” where the presentation was going to be held.
At 4:51, so five minutes later, I text back after not hearing anything, “And if you don't mind just confirming that it is at 7:00pm that would be great.” Then seven minutes later, 4:58pm. “So we're planning on leaving here at 5:30. So I should be there around 6:40”. And then at 5:00pm, the organizer gets back to me and says, “No, you're on at 6:00pm.”
So we're an hour away and we're hanging out with my daughter and son-in-law. We're in sweats. And as I mentioned, we're an hour away. It's five o'clock. The presentation starts at six. I flew to Arizona to do this presentation. And a lot of people are coming. Now here is where I feel like years of mindfulness and meditation and building in that pause just kicked into high gear.
So I said, “Hey, we need to get dressed and we need to be ready.” And my wife and my daughter and my son-in-law were amazing and said, alright, we can do this. We can be out of here in five, maybe 10 minutes, max. And everybody jumped up, got into high gear. And here's the next text that I send,
“Okay. We are getting dressed right now. We will hurry.” And then I texted a couple of minutes later, “I am so grateful you texted, this makes for a far better story.” I am then in the car and I text and say, “We should be there about 10 to 15 minutes after six. So stall, but I promise you I will deliver.” And I threw a couple of thumbs up.
And then another text where I said, “Okay, my son-in-law is driving. And he is very determined as a driver, the GPS shows my arrival at 6:11. I will keep you posted.” And I had not been asked for a bio, which is normally the case. So then I sent a text and said, “Not sure if you want to, but here's my standard bio if you want to read it before I get there.” And then she responded and said, “Sounds good. And I will read very slowly.” So I just said, “That sounds great. And I will keep you posted.” So as we drove and it really did feel like it was almost out in the middle of nowhere. We started making up time. And by the time we got there, it was 6:07, maybe 6:08 max.
So today I want to spend a little bit of time talking about a concept that had me thinking of quite a bit. What is the difference between reacting and responding? And then why on occasion can it be so easy to just react when those reactions that we do come almost impulsively versus really taking the time to respond?
So coming up on today's episode, we're going to spend more time looking into the difference of reaction versus response. And more importantly, how can you in essence slow your roll if you are a reactor and then how do you start to build in more of a time to respond. So that, and so much more coming up on today's episode of the Virtual Couch.
Hey, everybody. Welcome to episode 346 of the Virtual Couch. I am your host, Tony Overbay. I'm a licensed marriage and family therapist, and let's dive right in today. I got a fair amount of business that I want to take care of, and that is because the magnetic marriage podcast is launching very soon.
So if you are still interested in participating, we do have a little bit of a wait list of couples that I'm going to be doing some live anonymous coaching with, but you can still send your information, reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org. But if you are interested in just hearing these sessions, these coaching calls, and I cannot sell you on this enough, if you are curious to know what a couples coaching or couples therapy session sounds like, if you want to see how that might be of benefit to you, and I'm not even talking about talking with me.
But what can happen when two of you go in and you're pretty open and vulnerable, and you put your issues and problems in front of somebody that does this for a living. Maybe this is what they are passionate about and you see change, you see change pretty quickly and dramatically. And so for the cost of far less than one session with a good therapist, you are going to be able to have access to these sessions, these coaching calls.
So you can stay tuned, or the best thing that you can do is go to Tonyoverbay.com and sign up for my newsletter. And I will make you aware of when the podcast is ready and it looks like it's going to be the first week of December, but there's a good chance that we might run some sort of special over black Friday and let you have access to a whole year's worth of these coaching calls. So go to Tonyoverbay.com. Sign up to find out more. And if you go to Tonyoverbay.com/workshop, there is still a $19 marriage workshop. In essence, it's three big takeaways that you can apply into your marriage right away.
And it's also really, I want to lay out what we don't know that we don't know about relationships and how we pretty much all come into relationships, not equipped, and it's not a judgment statement, but we don't have all of the right tools. And I want nothing more than for you to be equipped, to have the very best magnetic marriage that you possibly can.
And with that said as well, you're going to hear more as the podcast launches about my magnetic marriage course that I have talked about often. And I have run multiple rounds or cohorts or whatever you want to call it of this magnetic marriage course where there's been a coaching component. But what we've decided to do, the co-creator Preston Pugmier, host of Next Level Life podcast, which I cannot recommend enough, but what we decided to do is we are going to put this course up as an evergreen course. So it is going to be available for all. And that is going to be very soon as well.
And so just go sign up at tonyoverbay.com. And you are going to find out more about all of these things and much more.
And let me just also continue to plug that if you turn to any unhealthy coping mechanism, now my path back recovery program is specifically for people who turn to pornography as a coping mechanism, if they don't feel as connected in their marriage or in their parenting or in their faith or their career or their health.
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We have a weekly group call and I am very actively involved in that group call. And it's a good group of people that get together. And we talk about successes. We talk about life. We talk about how to be better people, and it may sound like we're just going to sit there and talk about all the evils of pornography over and over again. No, that's the coping mechanism that people turn to, but I really have confidence in the way that I work with people that are struggling with turning to unhealthy coping mechanisms. And that is let's fill in those gaps or voids in your life. And then you will not have the desire to turn to those unhealthy coping mechanisms on a regular basis and over time, what it feels like to be you is somebody that is feeling pretty good about themselves and becoming a better husband and father, and being more connected with your faith, your faith community, and getting in better shape, having more control of what you do, with regard to your health, your physical welfare, your physical wellbeing, and then also that can even lead to raising your emotional baseline up enough that you start to explore. Is this even the right career for me and all these things come from a place of power, not from a place of a victimhood standpoint.
So, go to pathbackrecovery.com and there you will find out more. But let's get to today's topic, and that is reaction versus response. And what I did was I've done a little bit of just a hidden, Dr. Google. And I found a great article in Psychology Today, which I'll throw a link to in the show notes, and it is by Dr. Matt James. And you can go find out more about Dr. Matt at literally Dr. Matt.com. And Dr. Matt, he's got a PhD. I believe he is a clinical psychologist. And he has an article simply entitled “React versus Respond. And what is the difference?” He has a quote at the end that I think is really interesting. It's by William James and it says, “A great many people think that they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.” And I really feel like this is hot off the heels of last week's episode, which I am very, and I literally talked about healthy ego, but I will stand in healthy ego and say, I really would love for you to check out that episode. If you missed last week's episode, I talked about healthy ego. And I talked about a concept called nonviolent communication, which again seemed a little bit of a paradox, an oxymoron, but I have been working that into sessions on a daily basis primarily for one thing.
In last week's episode, I referred to a website called fourminutebooks.com, which is just my speed. And there is a review of Marshall Rosenberg's nonviolent communication, his book called Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life and the review was by Pamela Hobart.
And as a quick reminder, communications expert Marshall Rosenberg says that most people's default manner of speaking to others is what he says, “highly violent”. That is if you consider violence to include attempts at cutting others down to size or coercing them into doing what we want. And I think that's more of what I see in my practice is people coercing others into doing what we want. And we started to explore a little bit in last week's episode that often people want to coerce others into doing what they want simply because it eases that person's anxiety. And one of the main tenets of understanding nonviolent communication is the ability to separate observation from judgment. That is the first step toward reducing needless conflict. And now this is one of those principles where once you see it, it's hard to unsee. And the example that I think I gave last week was if somebody doesn't finish their homework, then let's say you say, my son didn't finish his homework because he's lazy. So the observation is that my son didn't finish his homework, but then the judgment that we quickly throw in there is that he is lazy. Now, why, why do we say that?
Oftentimes, I believe that is just an immediate reaction. And we're going to talk again today about reaction versus response, but those reactions often come just impulsively and they happen in the moment. And I really believe that they are there, our brain conjures this immediate reaction to try to make sense of things or to manage our anxiety. And I feel like in both of those scenarios, I want to just say how adorable that we're trying to make sense. We want this certainty. We crave certainty. But then I really feel like that in addition to trying to calm our own anxiety in a situation and now suddenly we're creating these immediate reactions, instead of taking a pause or time to respond. So in that scenario, we may put that judgment on of he didn't do his homework because he's lazy.
Because what is happening in just very real time is that it must be because he's lazy because if not, what does that say about me? Have I not spent enough time with him in helping him with his homework? Have I not explored whether this is even the right school? Or have I passed along faulty DNA where he is now not a very good student? So we view everything, literally everything. Our first response is through our own lens. Why? Because that is what is happening to us, everything is happening in real time to us, we have a hardwired default setting of what it feels like to be us. And so we immediately are trying to make sense of things that oftentimes don't make sense. Or we're trying to make sense of things when we don't know what another person's experiences and we don't have the full context. I've referred in the past to a book called On Being Certain, which talks about the need that our brain has for certainty. I truly believe that what our brain is looking for at any given moment is this feeling of certainty so that we can make sense of things and move on. And, I really believe that our brain thinks that it can find certainty because it has found certainty in the past. The example is, if I say to you right now, what is two plus two? And your brain says four. Yeah, it feels right. So now we can move on.
So I really believe that our brain craves certainty, desires certainty, wants certainty, so it can move on. So then in these very moments, so many things are happening. So we see we have an observation that our son did not do his homework. And then immediately we crave certainty. We need to understand why, and we need to throw a judgment in there as quickly as we can to try to make sense of that in a way that will ease our own anxiety.
Look how complicated that is. So instead of just observing, he didn't do his homework. Period. Pause. Because now with that pause, now we can respond. Now we can respond and say, hey, champ, noticed you didn't do your homework. Tell me more about that. But if we are still up in our just reactionary brain, then we are immediately trying to make sense of things that maybe don't make sense. And we are throwing judgment on there to ease and calm anxiety. So I really feel like last week's episode got me thinking, it got me thinking a lot. And then this experience that I had in Arizona was pretty cool because there was absolutely a very, very large pause to be able to respond.
Now, my reaction, I did think in the scenario that I laid out at the beginning of this podcast that, hey, this person didn't clearly communicate to me that this speaking assignment happened at seven o'clock, and I scrolled through my texts, but I also know that we had traded an email or two. And so I honestly am not sure. Now I want to say, oh, no, they did not clearly communicate. The reality is, okay, I didn't know that it started at seven and I found out that it started at six. Period, again. What an amazing opportunity then to just respond, not react. Reaction would have come from my, I feel like an emotionally immature person, that would've said, well, I don't even know if I'm gonna be able to make it. I can't believe that you didn't tell me what time it was at, but the reality is we're all just going through life. We're trying, and I was able to get in the car and I was able to go, now I say this, had she not reached out to me and I'm starting to head over there at seven, or if I would've got the text at 5:50 and I was still sitting there, I guess at that scenario, and in that time, we would have been on our way.
Then I'm sure I would have noticed that I am feeling bad. But I'm hoping that I still would have been able to build in that pause and respond and say, oh man, I am so sorry. I didn't realize that it was a six. I thought it was a seven. So we'll be there. And when I got to the event and I really wasn't even that late, which was pretty funny because I had this whole thing where I was going to quote one of my favorite bands, AJR, they have a song called “A Hundred Bad Days.”
And I got up there and quoted any way where they say in the line in the song, “A hundred bad days make a hundred good stories and a hundred good stories make me interesting at parties.” So I really just felt like, hey, this is just another story that I'll be able to tell. And I'm kind of having an aha moment as I'm literally telling it on a podcast that will get downloaded 20-25,000 times in a hundred and something different countries.
So there you go. That story absolutely happened. And I'm grateful that I was able to respond and not react. So let's get back to this article because Dr. Matt just lays this out perfectly. Let's talk about reaction versus response. So, he said that some people use the word synonymously, but he said, “To me, there's a world of difference.” And Dr. Matt, I hear you.
He said, “A reaction is instant,” and I love this. He said “it's driven by the beliefs, the biases, and prejudices of the unconscious mind. So when you say or do something ‘without thinking’, that is the unconscious mind running the show. Our reaction is based in the moment and it doesn't take into consideration long term effects of what you do or say.”
He says, “A reaction is survival oriented and on some level it's a defense mechanism. It might turn out okay. But often a reaction is something you regret later.” And I love the direction he's going there because I, you know, you can tell from where I was going at the beginning of the story, that I really did view this reaction as something that would have just been impulsive or a way to defend my fragile ego, a way to make sense of something that just, it happened. Or it was also a way for me to then throw judgment. I think a lot of times our reactions are coming, like he says, from a place of judgment, of bias, of prejudice, and it's coming from the unconscious mind. So being able to build in a pause and then instead of reacting, being able to respond, becomes a very, very important, I think, point of becoming more emotionally mature. And when we act emotionally immature, when we are working out of this world of reactions, then I believe that we're communicating a little bit violently, according to Marshall Rosenberg. And so if we are throwing this judgment onto every observation that we have, then we are naturally putting the other person in a place of defense, and that is not a way to build connection. If I am continually saying, well, I noticed that you did this and so tell me why you don't like me anymore. You know, I noticed you didn't respond to me, so tell me why it's so hard for you to respond to me. Instead of saying, oh, I noticed you didn't respond, tell me more.
And I know it can sound overly simplistic at times, but the fact could be, my phone's broken. I had a client a couple of weeks ago that had dropped their phone in some water and I texted them and they weren't responding to me, it was because that phone was in a bag of rice. Now, again, a very simplistic explanation.
But I was starting to make meaning out of something that didn't make meaning because I had to make sense of it. If that person wasn't responding to me, then it must be because they didn't value my time and they weren't willing to take the second to respond to me for something that I needed to know.
Instead of just that observation and then watching the judgment that I had about that event. So Dr. Matt says a response. Okay. So he talked about how a reaction is this survival oriented defense mechanism, and that it may turn out alright, but he said that you typically regret it later.
“A response on the other hand usually comes more slowly. It's based on information from both the conscious mind and the unconscious mind.” So he says, “A response will be more ecological, meaning that it will take into consideration the wellbeing of not only you, but those around you in a way is the long-term effects. And it stays in line with your core values.” And I love that he started dipping into core values. So if I have a core value of connection or compassion or empathy, or even curiosity or authenticity, then that will eventually start to build in this pause because I am very curious as to why someone says the things they do or what their experience of why they show up and assume that everyone thinks the way that they do. So he said that a reaction and a response may look exactly alike, but they will feel different.
And I love the concept that they'll feel different because there are often, and there was a question at this event that I spoke at Sunday night. And somebody was talking about, it was a faith-based organization, and they were talking about the concept of the spirit of the holy ghost and that when you feel guided or prompted by God versus when is this just anxiety or fear?
And I love that question because I laid out for over an hour why it's difficult to be happy. Why do we compare ourselves to others? The reasons that we don't show up authentic because of our fear of abandonment or attachment wounds, and once we laid all of that out, I feel like the people there were starting to understand things a little bit differently. And so then as the person was saying, okay, so now I realize that I need to show up and be a better version of myself. But then how do I know at times when something is just fear, anxiety, or if it's a prompting from God that it's something that I need to do? And I said, okay, at this point, that the key is you. The more you understand how you work, the more you understand how impulsively you may react, or the more that you may understand what is happening in your subconscious or why you get defensive. And we'll talk about that here in a little bit, a little bit more, but the more you understand what it feels like to be you, then ultimately you are the judge. You are the ultimate judge to know, is this something that I want to do, but I'm just afraid. Or is this something that I really feel I'm really looking for Heavenly guidance?
I did my undergrad or I did my practicum, this is when you're still in school and grad school. I did my practicum working at a nonprofit that had a spiritual overtones and people would often get in positions where they did feel a lot of anxiety when change was going to occur. And then people would often say, man, I would love to do that, but God or the holy ghost or the holy spirit has told me that that's not a good idea.
And I remember as a new therapist often saying, well, my work is done here. You know, they pulled the holy ghost card out on me. And at this point I am not going to battle God because who am I to question what their belief system is or what that meaning is to them. But over the years, as I started to watch the pattern, people would then pull the holy ghost card, as I like to call it, on the most part when they would become very anxious or scared of change. And then I got to say, man, I hear you. And I don't want to then say, I know better than God, but then in those times I would say, yeah, I do feel like ultimately you're the person that will understand whether or not this is just, it's just something scary.
Is it something I really want to go after, but I'm afraid, or is it something where I really feel this divine intervention? And I would have been surprised at how often people will then immediately be able to say, man, yeah, I really believe this thing is fear. If you are a person of faith, then I think there's an overall belief that we'll be guided to head toward things of good. And that if there is anxiety or fear, that that often just means that is something that is scary. And we don't want to do scary things at times because we don't want to feel uncomfortable. So I loved that this person asked this question because he was saying, how do you know, they might feel different, the reaction or response, but how do you know? And now laying all that out, the simple answer is ultimately you will be the person to make that decision. And if you make a decision that takes you in a way that you then regret later, then guess what? You get to make another decision.
You know, that cliche that is very true when people say that I am so afraid to make a decision that I don't make a decision. And that in turn is the decision, is very true. And in that scenario, people want to, in essence, be acted upon. And so at that point, they often are able to hand over their accountability. Well, you made me do this, or you are the one that ultimately made the decision. And I can understand that, but the people that typically are good at making decisions, it's not that they just were born with this innate ability to make decisions, but over time, what it feels like to be them as somebody that makes a decision because they want to move forward and they know that then if they don't like the decision that they made previously, then they're going to get a chance to make another decision and another decision and another decision.
And there's a subset of this concept around decision-making as well, where people will say, I would rather not make a decision than make the wrong decision. And boy, I understand. And there's no part of me that feels like I know better than that person, because I truly don't know what it feels like to be them.
But from my therapy chair, I can say with some confidence that I worry that again, that goes back to what if we just say there are no wrong decisions, there are just decisions. Decisions are made because that's the very first time that you were in that spot in life. And so we are so craving again, I go back to the beginning of this episode, we want certainty. We want to know, we want to know that I am going to make the right decision or that the decision that I make is not going to harm anyone. But in reality, we are making decisions all the time. And so, I believe that it starts to become more empowering to continue to make these decisions. And then we deal with what happens after we make the decision. We often feel like if we're sitting at point A, I have to know what the end looks like. I have to know what point Z looks like. And I would rather not make a decision, then make the wrong decision. That will take me over on some different path. But in reality, I feel like part of the process of becoming more emotionally mature, or standing in your own confidence, is knowing that I can make a decision at point A and it's going to take me to point B. And then at point B, I'm going to gather all the data and now I'm going to get to make another decision and it's going to be to point C. And that becomes more of an empowering path is to know that what if I look at life as there aren't necessarily these wrong decisions? But I am just responding to the moment because it's the first time that I've been in that moment with all of my talents, abilities, tools, gifts, nature, nurture, birth order, DNA. All of those things that come into that moment that make me who I am, those are then why I think and feel and act and make the decisions that I do. So I need to just accept the fact that, oh, this is what I decided. And now let me take in that data because I get to make more decisions.
And that's one of the most exciting things about being an adult human being. And the more that you make those decisions, the more you do start to recognize that some of them are good. Some of them maybe didn't play out as well, but I've learned something along the way and I've started to feel more empowered.
So I know I went on a little bit of a decision-making tangent there, but if I get back to Dr. Matt's article that when he's talking about a reaction or response may look exactly alike, but they feel different, I really believe that’s what he's alluding to is that feeling is a feeling that comes with some awareness.
So when we aren't even aware of what we're not aware of, we're not able to tap into whatever this feeling is of, okay, this decision maybe does feel a little bit more solid or concrete, and there might be another one that doesn't feel as solid. So then I'm going to make that decision and know that I'm probably going to have an opportunity to make another decision pretty quickly.
So back to the reaction versus response, Dr. Matt says, “For example, say that you are approached by a panhandler on the street and you give that person money.” He said, “It's a reaction if you gave that money out of a fear or embarrassment or guilt.” He said, “It's a response if you gave that money from a solid sense of, I am here to help my fellow man in whatever form.”
Or he says, “Or say you didn't give that person money again, it's a reaction if you didn't give them money out of fear or disgust or anger. It's a response if you didn't give the money because you decided that it's wiser to give your money elsewhere, or maybe you didn't give the money because you didn't have the money.”
So he said, “We all do know inherently the difference, but the point is that the more reacting we do, the less empowered we are. We're operating from underlying assumptions and beliefs that we're not even aware of.”
And according to Dr. Matt, “We know this difference and the more reacting we do, yes, the less empowered we are. But if we're operating from these underlying assumptions or beliefs that we're not even aware of, then eventually the results of operating from this place of reaction,” he said, “the results are typically somewhere between horrendous and less than stellar.”
I love the next line. He said, “Left to its own devices, the unconscious mind creates a whole library of beliefs, prejudices, biases, fears, and limiting decisions because its main goal is your survival. So anything that might threaten survival becomes public enemy number one to the unconscious. So if your conscious goals are in conflict with your unconscious mind's sense of survival, then the unconscious will derail any efforts you try to make toward those goals.” Now why I love this is, one of my favorite things to do whenever I speak, and I talked about this on Sunday night, is laying out Russ Harris's view from acceptance and commitment therapy that ultimately the brain is a don't get killed device.
So the brain is operating off of this false pretense, that it has a finite amount of electrical activity. And if it has a finite amount of electrical activity then it wants to use as little electrical activity as possible. So it will live forever. That's why our brain creates habits. When things have been done habitually like thought processes or tying your shoes, then they eventually go into this habit center of the brain, the basal ganglia, where you use less electrical activity. So your brain is trying to habitualize things, make habits of things so that you'll use less electrical activity. So I love that Dr. Matt is talking about anything that goes against your own unconscious minds, library, beliefs, and prejudices, biases, fears, limiting decisions, it's going to feel like you are now attacking your brain's best interests to survive. So he goes on to say, “the unconscious can be an awesome partner to the conscious mind. It can provide the juice and the energy to accomplish what you want.” And he said, “When it's not freaking out trying to ensure your survival, it has a lot of intuitive wisdom to offer, but to get to that point, you need to spend time working with the unconscious and helping it release these limiting beliefs.” Correcting these negative assumptions or automatic assumptions that we make are these negative emotions that no longer serve you. And so often these fears that are there from birth and they're there out of a place of survival, then become limiting so that I'm afraid to make decisions can become a very limiting belief, but it was there early on because it was there from a place of survival. If you grew up in a household where you didn't have this unconditional love or the secure attachment with your parents or a parent, then there is a very good chance that you're going to continually make the wrong decision because your parents most likely had this hierarchy of right and wrong. One up and one down. And so as a kid, absolutely, for the most part, you're going to be making the wrong decisions because you were in the one down position when it comes to power or authority.
Back in 1998, researchers Anthony Greenwald, Debbie McGee, and Jordan Schwartz introduced something called the implicit association test or the IAT. And the IAT measures, the milliseconds that it takes to connect pairs of ideas. And this test is based on the concept that you will be faster putting together ideas that you already associate with one another. So the example that Dr. Matt gives is that if you automatically associate female with family and male with career, then you'll be very fast at placing nouns that relate to female and family or male and career in these columns of the tests.
But if the columns are titled male is equivalent to family and female is equivalent to career, and those are not the associations of your unconscious mind, then it will take extra milliseconds to sort these nouns properly. And I'm going to put a link in the show notes. It's out of Harvard and it took me only about 10 or 15 minutes, but I went and did one and there are some that talk about everything from race and gender and these really heavy topics. But I took an implicit association test just with, I think it was fitness and good and bad. And it really was a fascinating experience. And I can't even really describe the way that the test worked and it's free. I think it would be really interesting if you took that.
But it was free. And then it would just bring up these words that had negative associations or positive associations with fitness and health, and the first go through everything that seems nice and normal. You're hitting a button of a word that relates to good or fitness. And you're hitting another button on the keyboard if it relates to, I think it was bad or unhealthy. And that just seemed like what's the point, but then the next time that you do it and I can't even describe what this was like, then you would need to hit a particular button if it had to do with exercise and bad or not fitness and good, you hit the other button and it just threw my mind for a tailspin, but then it would do the next round of tests and it would do ones that made more sense to my brain. Again, these positive associations, and you could fly right through it.
So then by the end of the test, it showed me that I have a strong, strong implicit association of fitness and good. And so then that plays out into my reactions that if I see somebody, I'm sure that is talking about their exercise and they're wearing a marathon shirt, then I imply my implicit memory looks at them. And then I'm going to lean in a little bit more with trust. Now, am I saying that's a good thing? No, there's a judgment there. Absolutely. But now that I'm aware of that, now I need to go right back to what we talked about at the beginning of this episode. And my observation is that that person is wearing a St. George marathon shirt. So I happened to have run the St. George marathon 10 times. I wanted to get a t-shirt in the 10 timer club, which is hilarious now because that's a lot of work and time and effort to get a t-shirt that I couldn't even tell you where it hangs in my closet today. But if I see somebody wearing that shirt, then I have an implicit memory or a feeling that, oh, we are kindred souls, but I think, I don't know, 4,500 to 6,000 or more people run that every year.
And it's been going for decades. So what, there's hundreds of thousands of people that might wear that shirt. And now I'm saying we're all the same tribe. So you can see where we create these associations. So that implicit association test is fascinating. And once you're aware of the associations that you make then it gives you some data to be able to really separate observation from judgment. And Dr. Matt talked about this. And I thought this was really interesting. He said Malcolm Gladwell, and I love the author, Malcolm Gladwell, and I love his revisionist history podcast, but he wrote about the implicit association test in his book Blink, and he took one on race, and there was one on there on the Harvard test and I did not take it, but, Dr. Matt says that in Malcolm Gladwell's book, Blink that Malcolm Gladwell says that he took the one on race and he was mortified to find out that he had unconscious associations with Caucasian and European as good and his association with African-American was bad, even though Malcolm Gladwell himself is half African-American. So in an interview, Malcolm Gladwell said that his experience taught him to disregard his first impression of people. And to take time to know them before passing any judgment. So I feel like learning what your implicit associations are can be very powerful and being able to separate that observation from judgment. Because again, if we now put all of these pieces together, then your reactions so often come from your implicit associations out of your subconscious of trying to make sense of things that don't make sense to ease your anxiety. So I feel like there, we just put all of those pieces together. So then what Dr. Matt is saying is that when we do, we all have these associations and so many of them are unconscious and the unconscious mind is driving your reaction versus the way that you can show up and respond.
And he said, “You can work with the unconscious to unearth these associations. And then you can start to align them more closely with your own particular values and goals. And now when you do,” Dr. Matt says, “you tap all the power of the unconscious and all the power that it has to offer.”
But he said, “Even before you engage in the unconscious, as a productive partner, you can start living a life that is more responsive and less reactive.” Simply by the time you're done with this podcast of just paying attention and noticing when, what you do or say feels off center.
So pause whenever you feel yourself about to react, take a deep breath, step back, and give yourself an opportunity to respond. And, for the sake of time, I won't go into the entire mindfulness pitch, but a daily mindfulness or meditative practice is absolutely necessary and essential to get to this place of responding much sooner.
Because remember your visceral or gut reaction is happening. Your thoughts or your emotions are happening much faster than logic. Your brain, back to that don't get killed device, is a miraculous thing and that everything that comes through the brain, your first thought is, is this safe? So we lead with our emotions, is this safe, and if it's safe, then it moves on to the part of the brain that says, what can I do with it?
So it is absolutely critical and important that you learn to build in that pause. And one of the quickest ways to do it is to be able to do a daily mindfulness practice because what you are doing is not training your brain to clear thought, but you're training your brain that when you start to get caught up in thought, your brain already says, oh, this guy is going to turn right back around and focus on breathing in through his nose and out through his mouth. And he's going to square up his shoulders and he's going to sit up straight and it's just going to happen. And it's going to lower his heart rate, which is going to reduce the amount of cortisol in his brain.
And before you know it, he's out of his fight or flight response, and he's tapping into his prefrontal cortex where he can now respond rather than react. Okay. I would love to hear your thoughts. Feel free to email me your questions or comments. If you follow me on social media, please go check out my Instagram.
I have an amazing group of people now that are starting to take over my Instagram account. And I love the work that they're doing. So that's @virtualcouch. So go check that out and I'm sure there will be a post up about this, and I would love your feedback. I would love your comments. So, taking us out per usual, the wonderful, the talented, now on TikTok, Aurora Florence with her song, “It is wonderful”. We'll see you next time on the Virtual Couch.