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React or Respond?

A fundamental framework often used in coaching is that of The Four States of Consciousness – To Me, By Me, Through Me, As Me. The Conscious Leadership Group looks at these four states of consciousness as ‘four ways of leading in the world’. What was important for me to understand is that these are not stages of consciousness, but states and that, although we grow in our conscious awareness through the states, there are many times that we find ourselves returning to a lower state, and that certain circumstances may call for different states. Without getting too deep into these states, I would just say that the To Me state is where most of us spend most of the time. This is where Life Happens to Me and the undergirding belief is that ‘There is a problem, someone is at fault and someone should fix this.’ It very much takes a victim orientation. In the By Me state, we can Make Life Happen as we begin to understand that ‘Problems are here for me to learn from. I created the problem, so I can solve it.’ As we grow in our personal development, we become more conscious of our actions and gain the ability to make choices instead of blindly reacting to circumstances – we move from reacting to responding. By Me is a place of creation, curiosity and appreciation, and moving into this place allows for personal empowerment and personal responsibility. The vast majority of personal and leadership development coaching is spent helping people to move from the To Me state to the By Me state. I won’t get into the Through Me and As Me states, as those are places of advanced human development and I think most coaches would just dream to work with clients that can access those states! (If you are interested, check out this video: ) So, with that background, I have a horse story that illustrates the concept of React or Respond. Now that Ella has come home to retire, I am getting to know her at a whole deeper level as she has more choice and more space to express herself. As a horse, she often lives in the place of reacting, being programmed for flight as a prey animal. So, it is up to me to learn to respond to her actions, not blindly react. (Yet, at times, she is very deliberate in her actions, as when she chooses to allow me into her space for a moment of deep connection. More on that in a later blog entry!) At the beginning of one of my first rides on her in my outdoor arena, I realized that I had not sprayed her with mosquito repellent when I tacked her up. My husband Bruce was walking across the yard, so I called to him to bring me the Off. He came into the arena with it and it looked like he intended to come up to us and spray her while I was on her back. Now, I know enough about Ella to know that would not be a good idea! So, I dismounted, took the Off, held the rein in one hand and began to spray her with the other. I expected that she would react to the spray, so was prepared to move with her as I sprayed her chest and sides. However, things went sideways immediately, and she jerked backwards with her head held high – ready to flee! In that split second I was confused, because I sensed that she was still with me as I moved backwards with her, and I couldn’t figure out where the tension in the rein was coming from. I glanced to my left, and there was Bruce, holding on to the rein with all his might. I yelled at him to “Let go!” – no response. He was locked into the hold. “Let go!” again, and he unfroze and dropped the rein. Ella settled immediately, and as I went up to her, I realized that she had pulled hard enough to break her beautiful bridle (that I had specially ordered for her from Germany). Turning to Bruce, I asked why he thought he should grab the rein and try to hold back a 1200 pound horse. He said that he just reacted and had no idea why. He was not even aware of what he was doing until I yelled Let Go! for the second time.

I am not saying that I am more ‘conscious’ than my husband, but in that moment, I was prepared to respond whereas he was totally and unconsciously reacting. To be fair, this is how our autonomic nervous system is designed – in a moment of panic or danger, our body reacts before our mind has the time to assess the situation. The personal development piece is that we can learn to become more present and aware of our actions so that in many situations we can choose to respond instead of react – from a place of By Me instead of To Me. How helpful would that be when your 16 year old asks to take the car and you could assess the specific situation for risk instead of just saying ‘No!’ Or when a colleague at work asks a favor of you even though you are very busy. It is really easy to say “I don’t have time” but making the choice to try to find a solution that works for both of you shows you to be a capable leader.

Believe me, when dealing with a 1200 pound horse, it is imperative that you are self-aware enough and assessing every situation so that you can respond by choice instead of reacting by chance!

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