Life happens every minute of the day. Life has been happening to you since the day that you were born. The current emotional and psychological space that you are in is the combination of these experiences and, most importantly, your reaction to these experiences. It has often been said that “it is not what happens that has a lasting impact, it’s how you react to what happens.” I know I have been guilty of overreacting a number of times in my life and most recently, I have been a self-proclaimed “Overreactor.” Prior to this period, I was an underreactor; there weren’t too many things that could derive a reaction from me because I did not care about too many things. In these moments, when it was not tied to what happened, I was also more content. Hint, hint.
After interacting in life and in therapy with hundreds of clients, I have come to realize that the way that we react to things has the greatest impact on our current functioning. Granted, the majority of people who are functioning below their optimal level are reacting to negative events that have happened to them and that do warrant a negative reaction.
However, many of us are stuck in a pattern of reacting in the same ways that we have always reacted, even though things are constantly changing. We get angry when our friends/parents/colleague/whoever says something that our parents used to say when we were children. We react in the same way we did when we were young and end up stuck in the belief that we cannot get over it.
I am not saying that our past should have no impact; instead our past should teach us that we are strong and resilient; that we can overcome anything and still thrive.
We keep ourselves saddled down with sad stories and fears that outweigh the innate power that we possess by just being human. We let our emotions run our lives and react in self-defeating, disempowering ways that only serve to remind us that we’re not who we want to be.
Well, here is a powerful truth for you. Your reactions are the most powerful things that guide your life right now. Never mind what is happening; in the grand scheme of things, they don’t really matter. Where your character gets built is your emotional reactions to them and the meaning you take from them. If you change how to react to the things that happen in your daily life, you can change the life that you experience.
Nothing is more important than what you do when something bad (i.e. unexpected, disappointing, distressing, challenging etc) happens in your life. Your reactions show you where you are in your journey; they show you whether or not you understand the fundamental idea of living–that nothing stays the same ever. If we can grasp that idea and respond likewise, then we will set ourselves on a path to actually live, embrace life, look fear in the face and do what we want anyway, smile at challenges, help someone else to grow and leave a legacy worthy of emulation. Life is hard, life is unfair but life can be the most interesting, exciting game that you ever play, if you change how you react to the things that come your way. Just think about it, your thoughts are the most important determinant of what you experience and your reactions are the most important determinant of how you experience life.
In part two, I will outline some ways to change your reactions. Stay tuned.