Noticing your thoughts lets you respond vs. react and life gets easier when you can respond.

Have you ever used the term fly off the handle?

In pioneer days whittled ax-handles were crudely attached to ax-heads and were known to fly off the handle, causing injuries to those near-by.  The suddenness of an ax-head being flung off, and the trouble it caused became a term we still use for a sudden outburst of anger or loss of self-control.

Think of a time when something triggered that type of reaction in you.  Maybe it happened quickly and felt like something took over your thoughts and words – like flying off the handle.  It was probably a reaction not a response, and you might not have liked the outcome of the outburst.  Most of our reactions are more subtle than flying off the handle but can still cause trouble for ourselves or others. The key is to stop the reaction cycle before it gets started.  Here are THREE steps to explore.

Step ONE:  Your thoughts trigger reactions.

Although an outside event may seem to start a reaction, the initial trigger is a thought; and thoughts that go without notice tend to repeat themselves.  The origin of today’s reaction could be a pattern of thinking learned decades ago, that is unknowingly repeated.  When you notice what you’re thinking you have a chance to interrupt the cycle and insert new options like compassion and creative problem solving.

Step TWO:  Noticing your thoughts requires that you slow down.

Noticing your thoughts takes quiet time and practice. One of my best thought-noticing opportunities is when I’m delayed in traffic; especially on my way to catch a plane.  As soon as I reach the backup I fidget, compulsively look at my watch, dread the hassle of rescheduling, and start imagining the ALL-DAY-WAIT for the next flight – that is – if I even get to the airport.  Even though the delay is likely to resolve in just a few minutes, that doesn’t stop me from preparing for the frustration.  In 30 seconds I can be completely spun out if I don’t take time to notice.

It may sound silly, but un-noticed thoughts like this could increase my stress, limit my flying enjoyment or even sabotage career opportunities.  Being able to notice my thoughts frees me to make choices and respond rather than worry.

Step THREE:  Separate the story from the event.  

Your next unexpected delay might give you a chance to separate your thoughts from the event.  In this example, the event is the delay, and everything else is the story we build as a result of the event.  Notice if you feel trapped.  Are you worried that your delay will inconvenience or disappoint someone else?  Are you taking the delay personally and asking “why does this always happen to me?”  Maybe it’s just me… but I’m pretty sure I let this happen when I pick a check-out line at the grocery store.  No matter what the event, you can create an empowering story.

Putting it all together…

Noticing your thoughts lets you respond vs. react.  Life gets easier when you can respond; there is less emotional wreckage.

You will need to slow down but it’s worth it.

When you choose an empowering story it changes your experience.

Which of your thoughts typically trigger a reaction vs. a response?  I would love to hear about a time you noticed your thoughts and the difference it made.


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