iOS app Android app More

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors
Russell Bishop

GET UPDATES FROM Russell Bishop

WAKE UP: Are You Thinking or Just Reacting to Your Life?

Posted: 09/26/11 09:24 AM ET

Are you thinking or merely reacting as you go through life's challenges these days? I mean, really thinking, not just mindlessly or emotionally reacting to the stuff happening to you? If you find yourself judging, condemning, complaining or blaming then you can pretty much be assured that you're in reaction mode. While normal enough, these emotional reactions inhibit conscious choice and block your ability to create any kind of useful response to what bedevils you.

I was reading a little book called "The Power Within You" by my friend and teacher, John-Roger, when I came across this passage:

Thinking is not a natural process of the human consciousness. You may say, "Sure it is. Everybody thinks." I have news for you: very few people think. Most people react and then pass that off as thinking. Thinking is the cause of things. Reaction is the effect.

How often are you actually thinking, and how often are you reacting? You are probably reacting about 90 percent of the time. For the most part, you are reacting either to your previous reactions or to someone else's reactions. It's a long chain of effect and effect and effect. It's like dominos: you hit one and they all go.

Knowing how often I get caught up in my own reactive states, reading this got me to, well, thinking. What does it mean to think rather than simply react? For me, this rather simple yet challenging question translates into my own personal "wake up call."

It's Time to WAKE UP

While this may not be your sequence of thought, much less a perfect sequence, it may become your own version of the alarm clock. Rather than hit the snooze button, use these "alarms" to help you examine any issue with which you may find yourself struggling during the day:

1. What just happened
2. Assess the situation and accept the obvious
3. Consider options available
4. Take the best course of action you have available
5. Observe how its working
6. Repeat until you are satisfied with the outcome

These may seem like simple questions of observation, assessment and making choices. However, most people don't observe as much as they react to what they see.

Think about your local hero, the firefighter or other first responder. If you happen to be unfortunate to wind up in a fire or some other kind of tragedy, how do you want your first responder to, well, respond? Notice the name isn't first reactor! If it's me, I want that first responder to show up, assess the situation, and pick from the best available choices given the circumstances. I certainly don't want my responder to go into some kind of emotional reactionary state instead and waste time blaming whatever or whomever started the situation in the first place. There's plenty of time for blame and complain later, as if blame were ever going to correct the situation -- after all, as I have written many times in the past, blaming and complaining won't get you to where you're going, but it will give you a great set of excuses for being stuck where you are.

Wondering what this might look like in real life? Well, if you actually think about this for a couple of seconds, I'm sure you can come up with dozens of examples. Here's something that happened just recently in Utah which you probably saw on the news or YouTube:

Observation: If you watch the sequence of events closely, you will see some people coming to the scene of the accident -- some initially just gaping which is understandable -- after all this certainly looks tragic.

Assess: However, notice the young woman in the flip flops who winds up the ground observing and assessing the situation -- several times, actually, as the first couple of action choices don't appear to be working.

Options: The sequence is certainly quick, but you will see people acting (perhaps reacting), but then they stop for a few seconds, reassess the situation, and then take action again -- and again.

Action: And as you probably know, they manage to get the young man out from under the car, saving his life. It's also pretty obvious that these responders needed to observe, assess, take action, and then cycle back through Observe (this isn't working), Assess (he's still trapped and alive), Options (try different angles, get more people involved),

By the way, what isn't so obvious, is that the driver of the car is one of the rescuers! Imagine all the times we have seen video of crowds reacting against the person apparently "at fault." What would have been the outcome in this instance if these people had reacted rather than responding?

Ask anyone who has come through tragedy and made the best of it, and you will find some version of this same wise counsel: you need to observe and tell the truth about what happened to you; then you need to assess your options and make the best choices you can with what's left; and then you need to observe, assess and choose again. And again and again. My friend and truly inspirational example of day-to-day choosing, W. Mitchell (who himself survived a fiery and disfiguring motorcycle crash only to wind up paralyzed years later in a plane crash),


"It's not what happens to you, it's what you do about it ... Before I was paralyzed there were 10,000 things I could do. Now there are 9,000. I can either dwell on the 1,000 I've lost or focus on the 9,000 I have left."

So, what's happening in your life or more to the point, what has happened to you over the past months or years? What aspects of your life would you like to improve? If you lost your job, house, car, family or something even worse, you are likely to have experienced any number of emotions from hurt, anger and grief, to blame, complain and a sense of helplessness. However, as understandable as these reactions are, they won't help you dig out and rebuild.

What choices can you make starting today to move from reactor to responder? Remember, you don't have to be "perfectionally correct, just directionally correct."`

I'd love to hear from you so please do leave a comment here or drop me an email at Russell (at) russellbishop.com.

If you want more information on how you can apply this kind of reframing to your own life, how you can take a few simple steps that may wind up transforming your own life, please download a free chapter from my new book, Workarounds That Work. You'll be glad you did.

You can buy Workarounds That Work here.

Russell Bishop is an educational psychologist, author, executive coach and management consultant based in Santa Barbara, Calif. You can learn more about my work by visiting my website at www.RussellBishop.com. You can contact me by e-mail at Russell (at) russellbishop.com.

 
 
 

Follow Russell Bishop on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Russell_Bishop