Reactive thinking is not the best thinking

July 6, 2020 3:20 pm

The news that 900 people in Melbourne ‘hotspots’ refuse COVID-19 testing has confused many and outraged some.  It is easy to label people who refuse to test as selfish, but we can and must do better.  We must think clearly rather than judge based on limited information or react unwisely because our own perceived increased risk overly influences us.  A recent article in The Conversation highlights some of the many legitimate reasons that people may refuse testing. Some of the reasons include:

  • causal workers fearful of losing their jobs,
  • increased fear of invasive procedures due to previous sexual trauma,
  • marginalised people who have experienced adverse treatment at the hand of health systems and
  • people who simply do not understand how the test works or why it is beneficial, among others (see this article for more reasons).

In some ways, the underlying issue that is driving people to refuse testing is the same that is motivating others to judge them harshly – FEAR.

We are all worried about the health, social and economic impacts of COVID19 on our lives. Even those of us who have fared well so far can see the devasting impact COVID19 has had on many individuals and business here and overseas and want to avoid that ourselves.  It is normal to feel anxious when facing threats or uncertainty.

Science provides an explanation and clues for effective responding

Our brains are designed to protect us by avoiding or fighting back against any perceived dangers.  When threatened, we tend to narrow our thinking and focus on our most urgent needs rather than stepping back to view the challenge from alternate perspectives.  These ‘reactions’ are natural but will not serve us well in the long term.

We are in this together and for the long haul.  

COVID19 is not going to disappear soon and given humans relationship with the ‘natural world’ we are likely to experience an increase in pandemics and climate-related health threats in the coming years.  So we have to learn to work through the obstacles to safety.

Shift to BrainWise thinking 

First, we have to become more skilled in regulating our emotion. Uncertainty, change and ambiguity increase distress for many people.  Start by acknowledging and labelling the emotions you feel.  Neuroscience research shows that labelling out loud or in writing is better than just thinking about feelings (this post provides more information).

Second, ask questions to broaden your perspective.  In this case asking: What are the perceived barriers and risks to testing for those who are refusing?

Third, work collaboratively to identify and implement ways to reduce the risks or overcome the barriers. Collaboration is not easy. We are diverse people with different immediate needs. Collaboration means we are going to have to move away from ‘us and them’ thinking and figure out how to create new ways of living and working that respect the needs of all.  We have to take into account multiple perspectives. Broadening perspective is a skill and a habit that we can develop.

Living and performing well in the new normal means that most expedient solution will often not be the best solution.  We need to make decisions and use our collective resources wisely and fairly.

If we needed more evidence that we are all connected COVID19 gives us that. Rather than blaming or shaming people who have different needs and risks, we have to focus on our connection. We have the opportunity to use this crisis as a catalyst to learn how to work together to produce better long term outcomes for all of us.

If you would like to learn more about regulating your emotion; uncovering others perspectives and boost your BrainWise thinking, join our free webinars Tuesdays at 10:00 AEST – register here.  In this webinar series, we are working together to apply science to the challenge of becoming STRONG THROUGH CHANGE.


Photo credit:  Comete El Coco, Bret Kavanaugh and Tayla Jeffs on Unsplash

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