What are Your Reflexes Revealing About You?


You have donned the backless gown. Sitting there with your legs dangling over the side of the examination table you feel vulnerable. The doctor pokes and prods and then takes out the reflex hammer and whacks you a good one on your knee. Seconds later it is over and the doctor has moved on to the next part of the examination.

Ever wonder what in the world the knee whacking is all about? Most likely you know the doctor is testing your reflexes, but why? I am no MD, but in simple terms the doctor is checking your nerve responses. Your doctor is trying to determine if your nerves are functioning normally and how healthy your connective tissue is. No reflex or “knee-jerk response” indicates nerve damage that needs to be addressed. An over-reaction that is indicated by repeated contractions or “knee-jerks response” indicates cerebellar (the part of the brain that controls coordination and balance) disease. Ideally, a single “knee-jerk response” is what both you and the doctor want to see.

That whack to the knee actually sends an impulse to your nerves that bypasses your brain. The knee-jerk response is unconscious.

In life and as a leader you are “whacked” daily by situations and interactions with people that hit our nerves. Sometimes you are numb and there is no observable reaction. Other times the jerking continues for minutes, hours, days, months, and sometimes years after the whack! Both of these responses indicate that something is seriously wrong.

A healthy reaction to the “whacks” of life occur when you are able to identify the feelings (awareness), pause, process, and then make a conscious choice about how you will respond to the whack. While the reflexes in your knee always bypass your brain, your life reflexes don’t have to. Whether you react or respond to life’s whacks comes down to habits and intention. How skillful you are in handling life’s whacks makes a difference. It can make a bad situation better or worse, and it can make a good situation bad or even better.

Consider this scenario: You assign a task to Bob and he drops the ball. Not only does the task not get done, but the undone task affects the others on the team creating a heap of frustration. Will you sit Bob down and get after him in a way he will never forget? Or will you take notice of your anger, breathe, pause, and choose to be curious about what prevented Bob from completing the task?

Reacting in anger and venting on Bob won’t solve the problem; it will make things worse. The task will still not be done and it will work you up into a frenzy, upset Bob, and damage the relationship.

When you choose to respond it will preserve the relationship, create space for a solution, and allow both you and Bob to listen, learn, and grow.

Often there is more to the story than you realize. Perhaps Bob just lost his mother or is battling a health issue. Maybe your request was outside his strengths or there was some other critical work undertaking that was equally important that distracted him from your task.

Reacting is about operating out of:

  • Fear
  • Insecurities
  • Anger
  • Hurt
  • Sadness
  • Judgement
  • A need to protect yourself
  • Unprocessed emotions

Responding is about operating out of:

  • Values
  • Logic
  • Choices
  • Courage
  • Love/compassion
  • Curiosity
  • Hope
  • Confidence

There is a difference of about 10 seconds between reacting and responding in the moment. Improving your reflex to respond means that you have to:

1. Slow down

If you are speeding through life, your ability to slow down even 10 seconds and respond is seriously limited.

2. Know your limits

Being over-extended is the perfect set up for reacting. When you have margin in your life there is space to respond.

3. Observe

Each day we encounter many people and situations but rarely take the time observe how we feel about them. Ignoring your feelings is like under-reacting to the reflex hammer. And just because you have a feeling does not make it true. Our feelings fool us all the time. Too many ignored feelings limit your capacity to respond in the moment in healthy ways.

The more you practice identifying your feelings and determining whether or not they are true the easier it will be for you to do that in the moment.

4. Pause & breathe

When encountering something unexpected count slowly to 10. Breathe deep. You do not have to respond immediately no matter how hurried or rushed you feel.

5. Pray

You will need God’s help to respond so take a quick moment to ask Him for it. You can learn new ways to respond. He will give you the strength!

I can do all things through Christ, because He gives me strength. Philippians 4:13 (NCV)

6. Be curious

Just like there are two sides to every story, there are two sides to every whack. What is this person or situation triggering in you? What unmet need, fear, or sadness is it tapping into? What is the motivation behind the other person’s behavior? Your conclusion, no matter how logical it seems, may not be right. What unmet need, fear, or sadness have you tapped into for the other person?

7. Choose

Finally, make a conscious choice on how you will respond to the whack.

If you have been reacting for a long while, be patient with yourself. It will take time to practice and develop a pattern of responding. Responding takes you out of the victim role and allows you to exercise self-control. Remember, God is eager to help you respond!

A doctor scores your reflexes on a scale of 0-4. A score of 0 means that you have no reflexes at all – under-reaction. A score of 4 means that you have repeated contractions and you are over-reacting. A healthy reflex score: 2.

When it comes to the “whacks” of life, what’s your reflex score?

Marvae Eikanas

Marvae Eikanas

Marvae Eikanas is an author, entrepreneur, ICF certified coach, DISC consultant, and HBDI practitioner. She helps clients expand their possibilities—and become the leaders God made them to be!


  1. Avatar April on June 19, 2015 at 5:26 am

    I like your suggestion to “be curious.” At this stage in life (middle-age) most of us have learned that people act the way they do for a reason, and taking an approach of curiosity rather than making a snap judgment is great advice. This very week I reacted quickly and negatively to something someone said in public, and learned by talking to her privately, the context of her painful past from which those words had come. Having that understanding made all the difference in my second, informed, reaction. I wish I’d taken a curious approach in the beginning!

    • Marvae Marvae on June 19, 2015 at 7:42 am

      Thank you for sharing a wonderful example of how being curious can make a difference. Judgement assumes you know the motivation behind what someone says or does, curiosity on the other hand makes space to discover the truth. We just don’t always know like we think we do and those “snap judgements” generally end up causing us unnecessary problems.

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