Design your life to include more money, health and happiness with less stuff, space and energy.

Design your life to include more money, health and happiness with less stuff, space and energy.

4 Ways to Stop Reacting and Start Responding to Your Life

“Between stimulus and response is our greatest power—the freedom to choose.” –Stephen Covey

If you’re anything like me, Mondays tend to suck. Unlike other weekdays, which seem distinct and portioned out with manageable tasks and objectives, I look at Monday as a big glob, one that contains all the week’s tasks, objectives and expectations. Rather floating in a sea of opportunity, I feel like I’m paddling upstream in a river of unmet expectations. Monday mornings tend to be a frenzy of reactions. There is little time for reflection or creativity. I am not quite sure if my actions are the best use of my time. I flit about like an amped up gnat, trying to cross stuff off of my to-do list.

Essential to editing one’s life is time management. When we are in reaction mode, acting without evaluation, without taking the time to see if our actions are serving our greater objectives, we run the risk of wasting a good deal of time and therefore our lives.

What if we could step back and see our lives with calm and proper perspective? What if, rather than reacting to a bunch of little things, we could organize our tasks and make sure they were in alignment with our greater objectives in life? What if we could stop reacting and start responding to the various situations in our lives?

The word respond is derived from the Old French word respondre, which means ‘to answer.’ To answer denotes thought—something is asked of us, we consider it, then respond based on the present situation.

On the other hand, reactions tend to be vestiges of our pasts. We are repeating an action. The source of these actions–for many of us at least–has little to do with the present moment. It is most likely based on some previous reference point. I act this Monday much the way I did last Monday and the Monday before that (the breadcrumbs of my first action probably go back to kindergarten).

If you find yourself constantly reacting to life in ways that don’t serve your larger professional or personal goals, here are a few suggestions to get into response mode:

  1. Meditate. The most simple method is breathing meditation–either following or counting your breath for a set amount of time. What this does is make something unconscious (i.e. we breath whether we think about it or not) into something conscious. This simple act can pervade everything we do. When we are conscious of something, we can start seeing it for what it is, not just what we always thought it was, and start responding appropriately.
  2. Step away from your life. Take a walk. Exercise. Plan your day the day before. It’s really tough to see your day when you’re in the middle of it. Make time to think about how you want to live your life when you’re not being besieged by things you “have to” do.
  3. Look for different perspectives. As Einstein is quoted as saying, “Problems cannot be solved with the same mind set that created them.” Oftentimes, we react to life based on internal logic–a logic that was often formed at adolescence or earlier. We can get bogged down if we only depend on our own limited mental faculties to gain perspective. Talking to someone other than ourselves can do wonders for getting that perspective. We might start to realize that the way we see things is not necessarily the way things are, which will enable us to consider how we might respond to our present circumstances in more creative, useful ways.
  4. Put down the tech. If you’re someone (like me) who checks his or her email first thing in the morning, try something different. The problem with this behavior is that we start playing whack-a-mole with our days, thinking we’re getting necessary stuff done, when we might be giving ourselves more things to react to later, more ways in which we continue the cycle of reaction-action-reaction. Upon awakening, try to get centered, whether by meditating, drinking a cup of coffee or tea or reading something to set your day’s compass (i.e. that won’t piss you off). Don’t worry, the email will be there when you are through, but you will be better able to respond to it from a clearer place.

 Boy playing whack-a-mole image via Shutterstock

  • Chris

    One of the things that helps me is that I use David Allen’s Getting Things Done methodology. It’s big on doing a weekly review, where you look at things you’ve completed during the week and look forward to the next week / month. I usually do mine on Thursdays.

    That way, when Monday comes around, I’m not in the OMG state but can start the week with confidence that what I’m doing is the best thing.

    I also like that it’s a process and not a system. So, you can create a system that works best for you. Be it pen and paper, post it notes on a wall or a program on your phone / tablet / computer.

    They’ll always be emergencies that you need to react to but most of the time I’m responding because I know where I’m going and have a plan to get me there.

  • Lifebut

    No offense, but these aren’t very helpful suggestions for a Monday morning. I keep a simple list of things to do before work on the kitchen counter that I glance at if I find myself stressed for time. It contains the things that must be done before work, in order, such as make the kids lunches, remember medication, check diary, etc, and contains none of the time fillers like email, meditation etc. If I read the list as I make my coffee, I find that I quickly accomplish the essentials and end up with some time to spare and no concerns that I’ve forgotten something important.

  • Ani

    The problem I think, is the endless to-do lists, both at work and at home. I cross off 4 items only to add another 5. Not sure where meditating about it will be useful, especially on a Monday morning where if I was careful to turn off my work phone for the weekend, I have a pile of emails and call-backs already waiting for me. List making is the only thing I find useful, but they never seem to grow shorter. I figure that life has three inevitable things: death, taxes and “to-do lists”……

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  • Kevin

    Please check your opening quote. I believe Victor Frankl should be credited.
    “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” ― Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning.