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WW #020: React or respond?

Another Wellness Wednesday has rolled around, and today I want to cover off on one of the most common questions I hear from people who are interested in personal development:

“How do I shift my mindset from reacting to situations to responding to situations?”

I’d bet that if you don’t recognise this reactive way of being in yourself, you can most likely think of someone who fits the bill, so it's worth taking a closer look at what's going on. With that, grab your bag of compassion, and let's get into it!

To set the context, reflect for a moment on what happens inside of you when you meet…

…the toys the kids left laying on the floor.

…the annoyed look on the face of your boss as they pass by in the hallway.

…the loud sigh of your partner as they unpack the groceries into the fridge.

…the rain that continues all morning when you want to take a walk or hang out the washing.

…the terrible driver in front of you who insists on sitting 10km below the speed limit.

It doesn’t really matter what the specific situation is, when such events elicit a big emotional response, what you notice most is that you lose your sense of control. What you may not notice, is that little pieces of your personal freedom are eroded away at the same time.

When this happens structurally, we can begin to feel a prisoner, even a victim, of our own circumstances. It’s only natural that we might seek answers to this big question to try to regain that sense of control.

So what to do?

Before you can shift the automatic and often emotional reaction to what life is presenting and respond instead, you must first realise that life is creative in nature. As such, to participate powerfully in that process (of creation), we must really listen to what is happening in the present moment and mediate our response in that context.

The problem is, unless we’ve done some serious amount of self-enquiry already, we’re generally pretty terrible at actually listening to what is going on around us.

With good reason.

One of the key roles of the mind is to move us away from pain or danger and toward pleasure or safety, and it will always prioritise those tasks in that order. To do this effectively, the mind filters the world through one’s experience of the past and makes future projections about something that hasn’t yet happened (or isn’t happening!), on that basis. And all of this happens subconsciously, almost like magic. What gives it away are the emotions that surface.

In short:

It’s not what is happening in the present moment that’s likely bothering you so much, it’s the heavy weight of an unresolved history that’s preventing you from being in touch with the truth of the present moment.

Our patterns of operating based on the past are what form the prisons in our minds. And your ability to respond to what life presents you relies on their dismantling.

When you are able to be YOU, without all the patterns and projections playing out, you can tap into true presence. What is that? It’s the absence of the awareness of time.

Not the past.

Not the future.

The now.

When you are in NOW, you can listen.

You can “hear” that the kids became overtired and cleaning up the living room was just too much to ask today.

You can “hear” that your boss might just be skipping their self-care routine and is carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders, unable to hide it any longer.

You can “hear” that your partner might need a small gesture to remind them that you see them and appreciate them.

You can “hear” that there is an opportunity to tune in, and decide to either rest or practice doing hard things by invitation of the rain.

You can “hear” that you’re probably in too much of a rush, and need to check in with your breathing and slow the pace a little, allowing the careful driver ahead to proceed without abuse.

When you can listen, you can choose.

You cannot hear these things when you’re enmeshed with the past and using it (unconsciously) to make projections about how life is in the future (which, as a reminder, hasn’t happened yet).

What I’ve shared in this message is a lot. It might take a re-read to really land.

You might also notice that there is a tendency to judge yourself.

Please, don’t.

If you recognise yourself as being in that state of reaction regularly, I’d like to welcome you to the club of being human. Now that you’re an official, aware member, you’re invited to dial-up your self-compassion to full power!

This is courageous work, even asking a question like this is a bit step toward being the creator of your life. I want to celebrate that. And also drive home that productive introspection requires that you don’t punish yourself for things to which you are oblivious.

The work I do with people in my coaching practice is all about creating an intentional future. That almost always requires one to first address their history and rebalance their present before they can get deep into that exciting stage where (im)possibilities become realities.

But you don’t need to do all of that right now to find more peace and a sense of being in response to life. Your shortcut is presence.

Your history will let you know when is the right time to look at it a little more closely. Until then, remember the shortcut:

When you are present, you can listen. When you truly listen, you can choose.

Next time you feel that visceral response coming up, breathe first. Deeply, and consciously. That should pull you back to now and allow you to listen more closely.

I'd love to hear from you on what this (maybe) new awareness brings up for you. And if you use the presence shortcut, I'd love to hear how it goes! More questions, something not making sense? Your deeper inquiry is welcome - contact me using this tool.

Happy Wellness Wednesday.

Your coach for more peace, power and possibility,

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How can I help?

  1. In case you haven't already downloaded it, here is my Perfect Relaxation meditative audio you can listen to for more peace in your life. Remember to listen safely (instructions are here).

  2. Is your history feeling heavy? Ready to dive in? Let's meet online to talk more about how you can create more Peace, Power and Possibility in your life. This link allows you to schedule a free and powerful hour together.

  3. Are we connected on LinkedIn? I share content almost daily during the week and open some really interesting conversations with my community, so I'd love to invite you to join in there!


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