How to respond instead of react

Have you ever heard the saying that goes something like “You can’t control what happens to you, only your reaction to it?” I love the way Victor Frankl puts it:

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. 

When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.

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.” - Victor Frankl

I’ve thought about this concept a lot, especially when it comes to relationships and I wanted to share some of the things I’ve realized along the way. We all have relationships that challenge us. Often they’re in our family, sometimes they’re in the workplace or sometimes they’re your partner. Either way, they’re relationships that we are in some way forced to resolve our differences in, which is fortunate as that helps us grow and mature. In hindsight, I’m most thankful for the challenging relationships I’ve had as they’ve held the biggest lessons.

I used to be triggered so easily by certain people in my life. Some small thing that was said could send me into a fit of frustration. It’s interesting to note how that no longer happens. It was a gradual change that happened over a few years and was the result of the inner work I was doing on a whole, not anything directly related to the people I was interacting with. I was starting to take responsibility for my responses to everything in life. My responses to situations and people but also my responses to my habitual thought patterns and my emotions.

There were some key pieces that helped me go from having knee-jerk responses to being able to more consciously choose my responses to others.

#1: Realize that oftentimes it’s not about you

Only someone who is hurting or frustrated or feeling threatened feels the need to lash out or blame. When you make the conscious connection that they must be feeling pretty crappy inside and that you’re just witnessing the tip of the iceberg you can have compassion for their pain. Just knowing this in the moment takes it out of the space of “I must have done something wrong” to “This person is hurting and I’m just witnessing the effects of that.”

#2: Don’t fuel the fire

Recently I saw a short video clip that spoke about responding to contempt with warm-heartedness. It’s interesting to see what happens when you don’t respond to negativity with more negativity. It’s like pulling the gas away from the fire. I think every argument stems from two people who both need to be right. What happens when you no longer need to prove someone else wrong? There’s no foundation for an argument. They say “You’re wrong - THIS is the way it is!” and you say “Okay.” Argument over.

#3: Don’t expect others to recognize your response

In order to offer compassion or love in an unconditional way, we have to be completely untethered from people’s response to our responses. It would be nice if everyone would acknowledge and praise us every time we choose to respond and not react but that won’t be the case. Choose a compassionate response not for anyone else’s sake but for your own. Choose to be compassionate because anything else feels less than the goodness that you know yourself to be.

I go into greater detail and get more into the nitty-gritty of challenging relationships on my Patreon page where some of the Patrons have been sharing their thoughts and have had some AWESOME additions.

"If I 'meet and greet' as my true Self, all will unfold as beautifully as possible! Do we meet in fear, or do we meet in Love?!" - Mark Zanger

Can you think of a challenging relationship that forced you to examine your reactions/responses? Tell me how you dealt with it in the comments section below OR join the conversation over on Patreon.

For more content like this check out my blog post "How is this helping me?"


Posted on May 27, 2018 .

Practical tips for tuning into your intuition

Over the past few years I have experienced a large increase in my awareness of my intuition. The way I think of intuition is “Inner tuition.” The innate wisdom that is softly guiding us to our highest good and best selves. Key word being ‘softly’. In my experience my intuition never yells. Sometimes it’s stronger than others but in every instance it is something that could easily be ignored or rationalized as something other than intuition.

I first started noticing that I had this sense of intuition when I was reading a lot about using my emotions as a guide map in life. I was learning that I could rely on my joy and passion to guide me towards activities and life paths that would serve my highest good. This idea of having the ability to guide my life from within rather than relying on the outside world to determine my actions and decisions was very intriguing. For a while I really dedicated myself to following my joy as often as possible. I let the fact that an action felt joyful or exciting be the reason for pursuing it rather than thinking about what the action was going to net me in terms of results or rewards. This was the extent of my experience of intuition between the years 2011 and 2014.

In the summer of 2014, I started having bouts of intense anxiety and my world was turned upside down. I no longer felt that I could rely on my former stance of, “I’ll just follow my joy at every moment and everything will be hunky-dory.” If that were so why was I now experiencing this intense anxiety? This led to me getting in touch with myself and my intuition on a much deeper level.  

While I go into more detail about my anxiety attacks in the blog post Why do I suddenly feel like crap?, the only solution I found that helped was slowing down. I started going through my days at a more conscious pace in terms of the speed of my thoughts. Whenever I noticed my thoughts starting to ramp up to speeds that were uncomfortable I would take a few moments to breathe and regain clarity.

I noticed that approaching life at this slower more easy pace made me much more aware of my intuition. Those slight internal nudges or words that came from other people that felt like they were spoken just for me were no longer being drowned out by a mind that was traveling at a million miles an hour. Being in tune with myself in this new way greatly boosted my confidence. I knew that if there was a challenging decision that I had to make that I already had the answer at some level. It was just a matter of getting quiet enough to hear it.

These days I rely on my intuition to guide me in every moment. From the ‘big’ to the ‘small’ decisions I follow what feels right. If something feels like it was said just for me then I take notice of that. If a word or phrase comes up 10 times in one day and feels as if it’s life’s way of trying to get my attention then I take notice of that too. Living this way is so much more rewarding for me than trying to figure out which direction to go based on external influences. It has led to a sense of confidence that no matter what comes up I have the wisdom and wherewithal to navigate through it.  

Some practical tips for tuning into your intuition:

  1. Set aside some time each day for quietness. This can be a formal practice of meditation, prayer or reflection or just simply a block of time that you dedicate to relaxing and being more open.

  2. Notice times in your life when you have had to make a decision based on a gut feeling or instinct rather than tangible physical evidence. Maybe you’ve already been noticing and following your intuition without knowing that that’s what you were doing.

  3. Do something creative or fun. Often I find that when I’m being creative or just having fun with no specific agenda I get insights about things that are related to my work life or questions that I have about impending decisions to be made.

  4. Ask a question. If you have a specific question such as “Should I leave this job/partner/situation?” try putting the question out there and seeing what you get back. I’ve been surprised at how useful this tactic is. Just asking the question will make you more aware of when you’re getting slight nudges to go in a certain direction. Sometimes things that people say will feel like they were meant just for you or a word or phrase will come up repeatedly throughout your week for you to take notice of.

Posted on May 1, 2017 .

How is this helping me?

Can you think of an experience in your life that at the time you were going through it, you saw no light at the end of the tunnel? In the moment it was awful but in hindsight, it was pivotal and helped you grow as a person.

I had the realization lately that things in my life happen for a reason and for my greatest benefit. When I look back, I see how once seemingly bad times in my life actually led me to decisions that served me greatly.

My first serious relationship turned into a long distance relationship when my girlfriend went away to college. While we were still dating, unbeknownst to me, she met and started a relationship with someone else. I was mortified. I couldn’t eat and laid in bed for days watching the movie ‘Ray’, a rather depressing movie, on repeat.

After two weeks of sulking, my dad suggested that I learn to meditate. I felt like I had hit my emotional rock bottom and had no reason or energy to protest. I was also fortunate that he is a Transcendental Meditation (TM) instructor. Learning TM was the beginning of the most significant phase in my life. I may have never have taken that path had it not been for the infidelity and breakup.

Sometimes we have to be brought to our lowest point to make choices that we wouldn’t have made otherwise.

I’ve realized that all experiences, both good and bad, are part of my path for a reason and contain teachable moments that help me grow towards my best self. Now, rather than fretting when something challenging comes my way, I remind myself to pay attention in the moment. What is this moment trying to teach me? How will this serve me?

Applying this way of thinking throughout my day to day life brings me a huge feeling of relief and a sense of peace. Even if I can't see the good in present suffering, I have faith that all things are working for good.

I am now open to whatever comes my way and don’t fight those things that bring momentary unhappiness. I simply say to myself, “All things are happening for my highest good no matter how I feel right now” and I look for the life lessons. It's not a magic bullet. I still at times feel an initial sense of frustration or worry at not knowing how things are going to work out. But I’ve noticed that the harder the challenge, the bigger the payoff when I come out the other end.

Sometimes I’ll come up with examples of how things that initially seem like they’re going “wrong” may be helping me. For example, if I’m impatiently stuck behind a slow car in traffic I might think to myself that maybe this slow driver is helping me avoid an accident. Maybe this slow driver is reminding me to slow down in general. I change that moment of frustration into something positive that I can then feel grateful for.

If a restaurant messes up my order and gives me something different I might think to myself 'maybe that’s just what my body needs at this moment' or maybe it will help me try something new that I’ll end up loving. I then practice gratitude on the heels of that. These sound like small things but these ‘small things’ add up to make the big part of our lives. The experience is something I have no control over but I can control how I respond and interpret it. Those thoughts are directly connected to my mood and feelings which in turn gauge how I act towards myself and others.

This also works for me on the big changes in life. When I lost my full-time job I thought, “Thank you for helping to move me in the direction of something that is more in line with what I love to do.” When my long-term romantic relationship ended I thought, “There must be a relationship that is beyond what I can imagine at this moment or maybe I need some time by myself to figure out who I am as an individual.”

There are inevitably times when I have trouble seeing the silver lining. In those times what I have to lean on is the track record of all those time seemingly negative circumstances ended up being the pivot point in my life. When I have no idea how anything could possibly be helping me I remind myself how all things work for good. I use those instances as an opportunity to practice faith, courage, or forgiveness. This practice has led to no longer seeing myself as a victim but as someone who is loved and faithful to the path my life is on, wherever that takes me.

If you have any similar practices or experiences or any thoughts on this topic in general I’d love to hear them in the comments section. Thanks for reading!

Posted on April 18, 2017 and filed under Life.