Respond, Don’t React

Your spouse gets home, flings down their bag and snaps “What a hell-of-a-day! I need to go for a run. What’s for dinner?

Your knee-jerk REACTION might be “Ask me about MY day why don’t you! You’re so selfish you think the entire planet revolves around you!”

Your more thoughtful RESPONSE might be “Sorry you had such a terrible day. I’m pretty bushed too. Go for your run, and then can you finish dinner prep? I think 30 minutes of Yoga will cure what ails me.”

When we REACT we’re so deeply zoomed in on our own perspective there’s no room for any more information. We lead with our egos, assume we know enough to make snap judgments, take everything personally, and are entirely vulnerable to outside conditions for our mood.

When we RESPOND we swap out the zoom lens for the wide-angle. We pull our focus out beyond our immediate, limited perspective so we can see self-in-context. We become the director of our movie rather than the actor. As director, we can change the script at any time. We become “the one who watches” rather than “the one who reacts.”  In the pause, or space, this zooming-out creates, we can choose our response.

We humans tend to dwell in (and between) one of two psychological states most of the time

  • REACTIVE – we feel stressed, victims of events, rigid, and tend to say and do things we later regret
  • RESPONSIVE – we’re relaxed, in charge, flexible, and at our best.

Most psychological growth is about shifting the balance of these two states from REACTIVE toward RESPONSIVE. Meditation, mindfulness and therapy are all focused on teaching and practicing the three “Conditions of Responsiveness” (for want of a better term!)

  1. Cultivate Self-Awareness
  2. Inhabit the Pause
  3. Expand Possibilities

Here are my Top 3 Tips for Boosting Your Mastery of Each Condition

1. Cultivate Self-Awareness ~

  1. Check in with yourself.  Identify a trigger that gets your attention several times a day ( an hourly alarm, red traffic lights, a passing airplane, an urge to check Facebook). When you notice this, check in. What mood are you in? How do you feel? Parrott Emotions Tree 2001  Do you need anything? (see Use Feelings to Identify Needs). Note a few words about your state, e.g, 9:00am – exhausted, hungry, anxious; 11:00am – sugar buzz, irritated, bored.  This simple practice gets your out of your experience and allows you to “Be the one who watches.”
  2. Put your shoes away. I learned this at convent boarding school. Lose your beret or prayer-book and there was Sister Francis ready to swat. You probably don’t need to track your beret, but the simple practice of being mindful about the placement of one item in your life pushes your awareness.
  3. Replay a moment. In some down time, reflect upon a part of your day that comes to mind. What were you thinking? How did things go? Could it have gone better?  Again, this simple reflection and critique expands your ability to “be the one who watches.”

Inhabit the Pause ~

  1. Buy time.  Right at the impact – an incoming stimulus from your selfish spouse, angry kid, unreasonable boss – right then before you react, try taking a long slow, deep inhale; take off your glasses and rub your temples; stand up and stretch; shift your body somehow to break the spell.
  2. Be Honest.  Say something like “I’m working on not reacting, so give me a moment here.”  “Humm – let me think about that for a while.”
  3. Invite a Do-Over.  “Wow, that hit me the wrong way. Can you say that again, but more slowly, (more gently, less loudly)?”

Expand Possibilities ~

  1. Name the Issue.  To demonstrate you’re not trapped in your own perspective, name what you think is bugging you.  “Hang on, sounds like we both had dreadful days.” “You want to have a mid-week sleep over even though that’s against our family rules?”
  2. Invite Fantasy.  Rather than a knee-jerk insult or “No!” expand the realm of possible responses by inviting the other person to tell you what they wish you’d say. “Well high there Mr. Bad Day! What would your fantasy perfect wife say to that?”   “Well my darling, you know we think mid-week sleep-overs are a bad idea, but tell me, what do you wish I’d say?”
  3. Team Up. Unless there’s an emergency, you probably don’t have to come up with the definitive answer right now.  If you’ve named the issue, sought out some idealized (and probably impractical) possibilities, try teaming up for find a win/win. “Hum, how be you run first, then take over dinner while I do 30 minutes of Yoga.” Or “What’s so special about that night for the sleepover? Might other nights work? What is the real issue here?”

As with any of my suggestions, I’m always interested to know what works and what else you’ve tried that works for you.

PS: Another longer posting – sorry! This just over 800.

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