React? Or Respond?

Balance is the goal, right? We strive for work-life balance, balanced checkbook, balanced diets. Like it or not, if you are reading this, you probably live with the first world dilemma of unending choice.

Life rarely achieves a balanced equilibrium (and if it does, it doesn’t seem to last!) For me, and many of my clients, life is more multidimensional and dynamic than two opposing forces steadying each other. Striving for balance can sometimes feel like a defeating task where you are at the mercy of an overwhelming number of life circumstances and situations that just can’t be won. This is one manifestation of victim mentality: life is being done to you, and you have no control or efficacy. Not a very powerful or satisfying perspective. The bottom line is that we always have a choice.

You can choose how to respond, even when you can’t control the circumstance. Your proposal gets rejected, the dishwasher breaks and that expense is not in your budget, your child is struggling in school, your weight continues to go up despite your new exercise routine. These types of surprises and disappointments are going to happen. I like to think of them as opportunities to practice responding instead of reacting to life.

So here are your choices in the face of normal life setbacks:

You can REACT. This is an unconscious, knee-jerk, thought, belief, or action to a circumstance. Do any of the examples below sound familiar to you?

  • Is your go-to response to disappointment or hard news that it is somehow your fault and so you apologize or contort yourself into a pretzel to make it better, all the while feeling guilt-ridden and shameful?
  • Or maybe you make up that whatever you really want must be impossible or too ambitious and you just give up?
  • Is the world out to get you and so you react with blame, defense or argument?
  • Do you make up elaborate explanations as to why it happened as it did and end up stuck in your head in ‘analysis paralysis’?
  • Do any of these reactions sound familiar to you? With some intentional awareness, you can begin to see that your reactions are patterned. The same ones come up again and again regardless of the circumstances. So what is the alternative?

If you are willing to come from a place of responsibility and consciousness, the alternative is an empowered RESPONSE that leaves you at cause for your life, regardless of the circumstances.

This is where freedom lives. Life may still busy and setbacks will still happen, but when you respond to life acknowledge that you always have a choice. A hurtful comment from a colleague doesn’t have to mean that you are wrong or she is cold-hearted. From a place of responsibility there is room for curiosity. Could it be that your colleague only knows how to get her needs met by pushing buttons? Perhaps there is something embedded in her comment that supports your growth? Maybe you have somehow “trained” her to relate to you as a threat? The explanation doesn’t matter so much as seeing that you do indeed have a choice about how you interpret the circumstance AND how your respond.

Being responsible for your response also supports you in picking yourself up and getting back on track towards your intended outcomes much faster than getting sidetracked by the drama of reaction. There is pride in being personally accountable and responsible for yourself, not just in action but also in perspective.

So perhaps it is time to let yourself off the hook for achieving some static balance. The opportunity in the midst of any chaos or emotion is to be self-aware and choose and celebrate yourself for being someone who is in the driver’s seat of your life’s journey.