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Life By Design Blog

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"Arghhh I can't believe I did that" OR knee-jerk reactions

A man came for coaching recently because he's not happy with his body.

He's so desperate he wants to do whatever will get the weight off quickly. When someone is in this state I know they aren't very open to taking a long term view. They make a choice which relieves the 'eurghhh' feeling but this is rarely a choice that feels good or is right for them in the medium or long term. My prediction is that unless he sees weight come off and can get into a state where he is thinking more clearly, he will give up before he even gets going. Most people do this. 


Often when people seek coaching they are in a similar state. They have reached a point where they are so uncomfortable with their situation they feel desperate to do something.  The decision to seek help is a knee jerk reaction to an intense feeling of discomfort or unhappiness. 

It's usually a bit of a cycle. A situation makes you feel crap leading to knee-jerk reaction, leading to feeling crap, leading to a knee-jerk solution leading to feeling crap (usually feeling restricted) leading to a new trigger situation........ 


We've all been there but it's not a good idea to stay there. 

The cycle of temporary emotional outbursts followed by temporary relief doesn't make for a helpful mindset. Short-term relief is followed by long-term regret and the consequences cause the problems to mount up. As a result it becomes very difficult to think sensibly and come up with a enjoyable and sustainable plan. Sadly some people stay stuck in this cycle for years! 

Knee Jerk reaction :an immediate unthinking emotional reaction produced by an event or statement to which the reacting person is highly sensitive;  
— dictionary definition

S.T.O.P Knee-Jerk reactions

I'm probably telling you something you already know, so how do you break the cycle?

When you are having an emotional reaction you need to S.T.OP:

Slow down

Pause for a moment and take a few deep breaths. 

Slow down, observe yourself in action and recognise the triggers. 

What situations cause you to have a knee-jerk reaction? What do they have in common? You will usually find that you experience the same emotion in these situations. What is it? 

If you can, put distance between yourself and the situation whether that is physical distance or leaving some time before reacting. 


What is really going here? 

What need isn't being met? 

What is it I really need right now? 

It's going to be something like comfort, release, to be heard, vent frustration or anger, to feel good, gain control, a treat, physical stimulation etc etc etc 

What meaning have I chosen to attach to this situation?  

What beliefs am I holding?  

  • "If I don't do this I'll miss out" 
  • "This is my only chance" 
  • "I show them...." 
  • "I need this because............." 

Are they true? 


Explore all the perspectives and options that are available to you. This gives you a greater feeling of freedom and choice. 

Consider :

  • How else could I see this situation?
  • How many other perspectives are there? 
  • If someone has annoyed you how else could you view them? What other stories could you tell yourself?  What if you put yourself in their shoes and told the story from their perspective? If you responded differently how might others adjust their behaviour? 
  • How many other options do you have right now? 
  • How many other ways could you get what you need? 
  • Can you choose a humorous take? This can be a powerful way of freeing yourself from knee-jerk responses. It's hard to be angry or annoyed at something that makes you laugh. 

Be proactive (and practice) 

Learn to spot the triggers and pause before acting. It sounds hard but the good news is that this is something you can practice and improve over time. 

As we repeat acts of gratitude, love, spite, anger or self-control, we develop stronger and stronger tendencies or "dispositions" to repeat specific behaviours. We can train ourselves to take caution with our choices even, in emotional times. We can teach ourselves to pause and think before we act. 

We create our tendency to act in a certain way. If we make reflection an increasingly more natural response whenever emotion flares up, we can start to make decisions from a more empowering perspective. 


Are you feeling 'eurgghhh right now'? 

No? Then now is a great time to set yourself a goal. Set a goal from a calm place and with a rational mind. It makes for much better decision making and allows you to avoid getting to the 'erughhh' feeling in the first place. You'll be able to put a plan in place that is kinder to yourself as you'll feel like you're doing it out of choice rather than a feeling of 'I have to do this'.

You'll find that plan more manageable too as the problems won't have mounted up. 

Yes? Then take a step back! If you’ve carried this problem or behaviour for a few weeks or more will a few more weeks do any harm if you take a long-term approach? How many more weeks will it take if you go through the knee-jerk cycle?

S.T.O.P and make a plan with a cool head. 


How about you? 

Did your current goal start from a knee-jerk reaction?

What causes your knee-jerk reactions? 

How do you stop yourself from impulsive responses?

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