Day 34 - Reactivity

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Robin Boudette, Ph.D.

Robin is a psychologist in Counseling and Psychological Services at Princeton University, and has worked 14 years with students. She is the former Director of the University Medical Center at Princeton Eating Disorders Program, and founder of the Mind-Body Health Services Team. 

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From the time we’re born (and likely before), we are storing experience in memory. This memory combines with new sensory data to produce learning - but more importantly, it provides the data for models that explain our experience of the world, in real time. Often these models sum into a judgement of some kind - and those judgements stick.

The brain is a prediction machine. It is using memory to fill in neural gaps, and to build situational response models, that it instantly deploys to replace original thinking, wherever possible. A “reaction” is an automatic retrieval of the memory, most accessible and most similar to the current situation - and its application to the present. If the last time we experienced a similar situation, we reacted with a judgement, we are most likely to react with that judgement again.   


Memories and response models come directly from the primitive limbic system, through hard-wired pathways that handily beat out the intellectually refined, but slower signals from the neocortex. That means the thinking brain may send a “wait, wait, wait message - but it’s too late to even be processed. This pattern dooms us to react the same way over and over, often with no idea that there may be a more skillful or successful response. 

Copyright  2020 Institute for Organizational Mindfulness (IOM)

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