The simple definition of living a reactive life is feeling and expressing your thoughts and emotions without checks and balances. Meaning, if you don’t create an internal buffer to analyze what you are experiencing just before you respond, you will react – allowing people and circumstances to push your buttons. When you can internally focus on what you are thinking and feeling just before you respond, you will realize that there is a great opportunity to learn a life lesson.
The key is simply asking yourself, “What am I learning about myself right now?” It’s a simple question, but one that is quite powerful. When you focus on what you are learning about yourself in the moment, it takes the focus off of the external event and helps you focus on what is happening internally. For example, if I am driving my car down the highway and a driver cuts me off, a natural inclination could be to become angry or annoyed. However, in that moment if I ask myself, “James, what are you learning about yourself right now?” I may find that I am lacking patience. When I identify the reactive emotion that I feel in that moment, I look for its opposite. Feelings of frustration in me often mean I am lacking patience. When I realize this situation has the opportunity to teach me patience, I then have a choice: do I stay frustrated at the reckless driver or do I choose to focus on my lack of patience and use my energy to practice this attribute? When I realize I have a choice in how I respond, I have to take responsibility for my actions whether I want to or not.
A rule of thumb is this: if you find that your reaction is slightly disproportionate to the event, or rather you are overreacting, then it’s probably a perfect opportunity to learn a valuable lesson. Sometimes we may not realize there was a lesson until after the fact; however, it’s good information to file away for future events which will teach us the same thing.
This can also be used in the reciprocal. There are times after a situation when I look back and can give myself an internal high-five because I am proud of the way I handled it. I can reflect on a previous time when I realized what the lesson was, practiced it at that time, and later was able to display it again. The more you practice the lesson or display the healthy attribute, the easier it is to draw on that lesson the next time you are faced with a similar situation.
Life’s events are going to happen. People are going to do and say things that are hurtful or simply foolish. You always have a choice. Why not take each moment and use it as an opportunity to learn. You will be at the top of your class when you take the time to simply ask yourself, “What am I learning about myself right now?”
James Miller is a licensed psychotherapist who is known for his weekly iTunes podcasts, YouTube channel, and his Academy where he teaches virtual classes for successful people to simplify and transform their lives. For consultation or for more information visit: www.JamesMillerLifeology.com.