Before You React, Ask Yourself: Is This a George Costanza Moment?
You know that moment when you’ve been jolted out of your usual emotional state and into another more activated state?
Maybe you’re walking down the street and someone bangs into you. Maybe you’re in your car and someone cuts you off. Maybe someone says something hurtful or humiliating (shaming). Maybe your partner, co-worker or child annoys you or lets you down. It could be anything, truthfully, that jolts us.
That jolt causes our brain to fire, triggering emotions. And, as The Change Triangle teaches, when emotions are triggered, the rest of our body goes through changes as well. These physical changes ready us for “survival” actions, so they can be pretty forceful. In general, the purpose of emotions is first and foremost to protect us from danger by propelling us to quickly respond to things in the outside world.
When we are jolted by life, it could be just one emotion that is triggered like fear or anger. Or it could be a combination of several emotions, which often triggers anxiety as well. Because emotions have energy, we have an urge to react immediately. Maybe we react by making threats or judgments. Maybe we react by retreating. Often when we take immediate action, it turns out NOT to be in our long-term best interest.
When I feel jolted and then pulled to react, I release some tension and inject some humor into the moment by asking myself, “Is this a George Costanza Moment?”
For Seinfeld fans, you know what I mean. A George Costanza moment is when you know you must do the OPPOSITE of your instinct. Even though every bone in your body says to react, DON’T DO IT.
Here’s a few examples of what I mean:
Lori saw an awesome pair of shoes at the mall. She got jolted into a state of excitement and wanted to buy those shoes. Acting on that impulse would mean she’d incur debt on her credit card. The impulse to buy those shoes was a George Costanza moment. She would regret it and hurt her credit status.
Joe was in a store with his 2-year-old son who was running around and accidentally bumped into another shopper. The shopper scolded his son. Joe wanted to punch the shopper for talking to his son that way. Joe was having a George Costanza moment. Joe could be arrested for assaulting another person. He should do the opposite of his impulse and walk away.
Emily shared something private with her friend Lisa and asked her not to tell anyone. Lisa was dying to tell another friend of theirs, Charlotte. Breaking Emily’s confidence, however, would put her friendship in jeopardy. That’s a George Costanza moment. Lisa should think carefully before breaking a promise.
How do we do the opposite of our impulses?
First we have to develop the ability to notice our impulses before we have taken action. That takes practice but it is totally learnable. Then we have to calm down. We can take deep breaths. Take a walk. Call a friend. Sleep on it. Do anything that buys time so you can THINK through any action you want to take. The goal is to act in accordance with your long-term goals for a good life. Acting quickly may satisfy your impulses, but sadly, it often leads to regret and poor outcomes.
Here’s the 3 min video snippet for your viewing pleasure and amusement of the moment of transformation for George Costanza:
In summary, when every bone in your body screams “DO SOMETHING!” and you feel your brain speeding up, and churning, this is the time for the counter-intuitive action. This is the time to “SLOW DOWN!”
When you slow down and calm your brain and body, you will be able to think much more clearly. It’s neuroscience! There is always time to act later.
Try it and let me know how it goes!
Jacobs Hendel, H. (2018). Before You React, Ask Yourself: Is This a George Costanza Moment?. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 29, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/before-you-react-ask-yourself-is-this-a-george-costanza-moment/