Anyone out there remember Choose Your Own adventure books? Turns out they still exist, how cool is that? I used to love these books and true to form, would choose all the adventures. How anyone could settle on just one adventure and not want to experience all of them was beyond me. Give me all the adventures. That sounds fun. What I love most about those books is the deep existential messaging it presented to unknowing teens. Different choices, different paths, different conclusions. Is each one a parallel existence? Is it sliding doors? Or is there only one option, one conclusion? A butterfly flaps its wings sort of thing. It’s brain melt. And really fun to think about the greater themes at play that were presented to a very much growing mind. 

The books have come to mind lately, as I have been focusing on the creation of mental health tools. Or we can call them tips, practices. I’ll let you decide. The point being, WE NEED TOOLS. Now. If you haven't noticed we are in the midst of what I would call a very real mental health crisis. And this crisis is not going to just disappear. We will be unraveling the impact of a world pandemic for years to come. I imagine maybe in the next 20 years we will have a better understanding of the impact, but until then, we remain in a kind of triage mode. And that’s not to say we are all living from a place of scarcity and panic all the time, but, the stress is real. People need therapy. And a lot of it. And by people I mean like all of us. But that’s neither a reasonable or accessible request for each and everyone of us, nor is it a reasonable request for the profession to meet. There are only so many clinicians. And so many of us. And we will eventually burn through clinicians. As a culture we don’t seem so great at preventing those kinds of scenarios. So, we need to include in our solution to this crisis getting tools in the hands of the people. People like you and me. Practices we can engage in that help, even if it is just a little bit, even though tools are not a replacement for therapy. Remember, A little can be a lot. Therapy is the ultimate solution, but let’s pay some attention to all the steps in between. And the spaces before, during, and between therapy are vast. And these vast spaces in between are where I am interested in hanging out right now. 

In this search for tools, ideas, in exploring this in-between space, I’ve been thinking a lot about response and reaction. The moment after we are presented with an idea, challenge, scenario. What happens next? When do we react and what shifts a reaction to a response? No doubt, doing the work brings about the possibility of a response. This is one of the most profound results of therapy. It takes time and is a slow burn, but sooner or later, a deeper understanding of ourselves yields the ability to respond AND react.  Reaction is not a villain. We need him, but most of the time conjuring up response instead is beneficial to all involved. 

But, like I said, we have to look at cutting the line a bit here. Offering ways to connect to this slow burn result of therapy in a more directed way. Therapy, yes. But also, shortcuts. Both can exist together and neither one dilutes the power of the other. 

When I began to break down my own analysis of how I behave when approached with an idea, challenge, scenario, I distilled my response/reaction down to a few basic steps. A Choose your own adventure so to speak. I’m calling it the BIG 3. 

Here’s what that looks like:

Our response to a set of circumstances, whether they be opportunities, conflict, feedback, both invited and uninvited advice, and on and on, grant us three distinct opportunities:

  1. Accept or reject - the hell yes or the hell no
  2. Consider
  3. Adopt

These choices or flavors, if you will can be used as a kind of filter or funnel. Everything starts with number 1. And depending upon the answer to that, you move on to 2 and three or not. 

So what does this look like in real time? 

Here’s a very simplified example:

Your team is meeting to review a client proposal. You are lead on the project and have presented the final draft of the deck to a room of engaged coworkers. You receive several kinds of feedback and run them through the BIG 3. 

First bit of feedback sounds like this.

“Great job, Lisa! All of the points we discussed including for this client were clearly addressed. Your tone and timing is right on. I wouldn’t change a thing. Go forth.” 

So let’s run this through the BIG 3. 

Number 1. Accept or reject - 

I think we can all agree this is super duper positive feedback. The initial reaction might be to give it a hells yes, the end and move on. This definitely seems more like a hells yes than a hell no. However, not changing a thing feels good to hear, but is that really what's best for the client? Maybe. Here’s where you have two choices. Either fully accept the feedback as is, this would be more of a reaction, based upon how good it feels to be finished with something that has taken a lot of work and also, hello ego, we like recognition for a job well done. But it is also possible that we could move this feedback through number 2, Consider. 

Here, we would consider the accuracy of the feedback. Does the presentation really feel finished? Is there anything we want  to improve upon? Weigh this feedback against other feedback from the group. Consideration requires a pause in time and thought, moving us more from an emotional reaction to a response framework. After consideration of this feedback, we then move it through number 3, Adopt. Here we choose to either adopt the feedback and agree, hells yes this presentation is indeed finished and ready to go, or adopt the idea that it does indeed need a bit more work, here’s what needs to change. 

Let’s flip the script with some super negative feedback.  Imagine hearing, “Wow. Are you kidding me? I don’t like the graphic on slide 3. It totally ruins the whole thing for me. I didn’t even listen after that. You’ll lose the client with this one.” Let's run this gem through the BIG 3. 

Number 1. Does this sound like a hell yeah or hell no to you? I imagine depending upon the day and how you are feeling it could be either. The important thing to remember is that either of those is a reaction. So let’s look at it both ways. Your immediate reaction is hell no. And yeah this is probably a sound reaction. The feedback doesn’t really seem to have to do with the overall presentation. Alternatively, a vulnerable self might react with a hells yeah. I do not deserve this position at work, I’ll totally blow it with this presentation, I do not know what I was thinking. Again, a reaction, not a response. Let’s run both of these through number 2, consideration. Either way consideration requires us to separate fact from emotion. And maybe the feedback was more of a reaction than a response to begin with. Was there anything in there that we could consider void of emotion? Perhaps the feedback about the graphics. That might deserve consideration. A question to the group about the graphics in general. Is there any agreement there? What do you think about the graphics? Then through 3. Adoption. What’s left? Was there anything in the feedback worth adopting? Maybe the graphics feedback matched others' point of view, maybe it didn't. A plan to let it go or adopt the idea would happen here. 

It’s challenging to illustrate this concept in pure podcast form , right? What it really deserves is a role play type of situation I think. I’ll figure out how to make that happen. But for now, try it out. Let me know how it goes. I’ll be talking about it more on Instagram @ lisaandersonshaffer, pop in and let me know what you think. 

Thank you for being here.

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