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Breaking Free From Emotional Reactivity

In our fast-paced and demanding world, it is essential to develop resilience and response flexibility to navigate the challenges we face. Resilience enables us to bounce forward from setbacks, while response flexibility empowers us to adapt and make conscious choices in the face of adversity.

However, one common obstacle to our adaptability is the phenomenon known as being "hooked." When we feel "hooked," our automatic and reactive responses hinder our ability to navigate challenges effectively. By understanding and addressing this pattern, we can develop the resilience and response flexibility needed to overcome obstacles and thrive in ever-changing and challenging environments.

The Role of the Survival Brain

Our survival brain is evolutionarily designed to protect us from perceived threats. However, it can be easily triggered in our modern lives, often leading to escalating stress levels and counterproductive reactions. By understanding this mechanism, we can cultivate resilience and develop the ability to respond effectively to stressors, rather than being controlled by them.

Understanding Being "Hooked"

When we feel "hooked," our survival brain's response to stress triggers a cycle of habitual reactivity. This reactive pattern can be driven by various triggers such as thoughts, feelings, sensations, or challenging situations. It leads to automatic responses like defensiveness, withdrawal, or lashing out, which hinder our resilience and well-being. Recognizing this pattern is crucial for developing response flexibility and maintaining a balanced approach to adversity.

Examples of Being "Hooked"

  1. Workplace Scenario: Imagine receiving critical feedback from a colleague during a team meeting. Your survival brain immediately interprets it as a threat to your competence, triggering a knee-jerk reaction. Instead of considering the feedback constructively, you may become defensive, engaging in unproductive arguments or shutting down communication.

  2. Home Scenario: Picture a situation where a family member repeatedly challenges your choices or lifestyle during a gathering. Your survival brain perceives this as an attack on your identity, triggering defensiveness or emotional withdrawal. These unconscious reactions can strain relationships and hinder your resilience.

UNHOOKING: Developing Resilience and Response Flexibility through Pausing:

In our journey to develop resilience and response flexibility, the most powerful tool we can employ to unhook ourselves from destructive emotions is the art of pausing. Pausing empowers us to create a moment of space and reflection amidst a whirlwind of reactivity. By intentionally pausing, we can shift from automatic reactions to conscious choices, allowing us to navigate challenges with greater clarity and adaptability. Here are strategies to cultivate resilience and response flexibility through the power of pausing:

  • Proactively Pause Practice pausing proactively in your daily life. Set aside dedicated moments for stillness and reflection, such as through meditation, journaling, or engaging in mindful activities like walking in nature. This proactive pause cultivates a habit of creating mental and emotional space, enabling you to respond more skillfully when faced with triggers.

  • Responsively Pause When faced with a triggering situation, consciously choose to pause before responding. Take a deep breath, sense your feet on the ground, relax tension in your body, and allow yourself a moment to acknowledge any emotions you’re feeling and to gather your thoughts. This pause creates an opportunity to disengage from automatic reactions and connect with your wiser self.

  • Reflectively Pause Reflect on the situation from a broader perspective. Review all the factors – inner and outer – that composed the situation of reactivity. Explore the underlying emotions and motivations and consider alternative viewpoints. This reflective process helps you gain insights and promotes response flexibility.


Embracing the practice of pausing empowers us to break free from being "hooked" and navigate life's challenges with composure and adaptability. By understanding the influence of our survival brain, we can consciously choose our responses and build healthier relationships. Training resilience – small moments, many times – enables us to bounce back from adversity, reduce stress, and cultivate emotional well-being, all of which lead to a more balanced and fulfilling life.


Written by Ryan Kenny, Pause Cofounder


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