The following graphic shows the responsive and reactive states in your brain, mind, and nervous system.
You’re going to feel the reactions described here in your body. It’s important to not just think about being reactive and responsive but also feel it in your body and emotions. There are two reactive states: struggling and collapsing. They are based on automatically triggered biological survival mechanisms where you feel more threatened than safe. They are in the zone of threat, burnout, and limitation.
Collapsing is the state where you feel hopeless and have given up. Your energy is low, you blame others, and you think that there isn't anything you can do about your situation. You are going through the motions.
Struggling is where most people operate from most of the time. Almost all of the attention is on reacting to a never-ending stream of demands and problems. Your energy is high and you're focused on making things happen, usually through heroic effort.
Rick Hanson, author of Hardwiring Happiness, says that reactive struggling: “may not feel awful--you may just carry around a background sense of being pressed, hassled, tense, prickly, drained, inadequate, uneasy, or glum.” This is where you never feel like you’ve done enough to feel safe and satisfied, so you keep striving and never arriving at true safety. You can never be enough or do enough.
Reactive states are based more on your past experiences than the current situation – so unless you’re defining who you are, you’re stuck replaying your history over and over.
An alternative to being reactive is being in a responsive, connecting state. In this state you feel safe and capable -- you feel like you are enough and that you can influence the circumstances around you. This is the zone of freedom, sustainable energy and possibility. Being in your Best Self keeps the storms of stress around from dominating you and creates an expansive space with room for new ideas and energy to emerge. You have the time to observe what you encounter and let it inspire you.
As you continue to anchor into your responsive best self, you can free yourself from your past and escape from being trapped in endless cycles of burnout, constraint, confusion, and conflict. This shift changes everything --- gradually --- it takes practice. It’s not like taking anantibiotic!
Don’t try to understand everything in this graphic. Instead, use it as a kind of map that you can look at, and ask yourself: where am I?