Red Flags: Balancing Our Reactions and Responses


Have you ever walked away from a conversation feeling dazed and confused, asking yourself, “what just happened?”  You know, that question from your partner about whose turn it is to empty the trash that quickly deteriorates into you
accusing your partner of TOTALLY disrespecting you.  Or, that simple request from your boss for those reports, which has you spending the rest of the day obsessing over the feeling that your boss has absolutely NO confidence in your abilities.

What happened?  You were hijacked by overwhelming emotions–our automatic responses that do not allow us to see clearly.    This is what happens when we react instead of respond to others.  This is what takes over us when we are disconnected from our emotional states and fall into that black hole.  Balancing these emotional states begins with cultivating awareness and appreciation of our Red Flags.

The other day I was driving along one of my favorite roads in the area.  As I was enjoying myself, I noticed the  “Caution Falling Rocks Ahead” sign.   I was struck by the possibility that I could be enjoying the scenery one minute,  and then be overtaken by falling rocks the next.  Red Flags are our minds way of signaling that there may be falling rocks ahead, in this case “automatic responses ahead.”  Red Flags are just like that road sign –they bring our attention to possible danger ahead and give us enough time to respond before we reach the “point of no return.”  When we see the “falling rocks ahead” sign we slow down, proceed with caution, ever mindful of possible danger ahead.

In his book, Mindsight, Daniel Siegel describes the “tripod of reflection: openness, objectivity, observation” as way to cultivate this awareness.    Be open to the feelings you are experiencing in the moment, instead being fearful and pushing them away.  Allow for observation of your feelings and behavior by taking a step back and asking yourself “Is my reaction congruent to the situation?”  Objectivity is the opportunity to have your feelings, without being swept away by them.   Although we may not always know the source of the overwhelming feelings,  observation allows for the opportunity to stop the madness before we destroy good relationships.  Noticing your Red Flags gives you the space to be curious and reflect about these overwhelming reactions and emotions.

Lean into your feelings….breathe, stay with them and simply be aware.  Soon you will begin to notice patterns and reflect upon the connections.  Be curious about what is happening inside you and around you when your heart begins to pound or you break out in a cold sweat; when your emotions and reactions are bigger than the situation at hand.  Begin by simply noticing your Red Flags.

Here is the really cool thing–Red Flags are there for everyone to notice.  Red Flags signal all those who are present to be mindful of the experiences of ourselves and others.  In the conversation above, the partner who inquired about the trash may have noticed his partner’s Red Flags and simply listened (the trash can wait).

Finding Your Balance:  Let your Red Flag fly!  Cultivate a balance between reacting and responding.  Honor your Red Flag’s purpose to bring your attention to something valuable.  Breathe, step back and be curious.

Posted: Monday, February 20th, 2012 @ 4:55 pm
Categories: Balance.
Tags: , , , , , , .
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3 Responses to “Red Flags: Balancing Our Reactions and Responses”

  1. Finding Your Balance » Blog Archive » Just Breathe: Your Daily Balancing Act (Part 1) Says:

    […] awareness of your mind and mood states.  Changes in the rhythm of your breathing are your Red Flags that you are reacting and not responding.    “When you are hungry, you breathe in a special […]

  2. Leonida Borwig Says:

    Nice info! Keep it flowing… :-)

  3. Finding Your Balance » Blog Archive » Listening to Vulnerability Says:

    […] an earlier blog, I wrote about being aware of your red flags….those  alerts that let us know that we are reacting instead of responding, pushing away […]

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