Vika Miller | Thriving Life

Reacting vs. Choosing

The Power of Noticing

One of the most helpful things I practice is noticing whether I’m reacting or choosing.

It might be surprising that this is my go-to first step, rather than starting with identifying my life-needs.  I suspect this works better for me because so often my perceptions of what I need are distorted by my discomfort, anxiety, and/or pain.

It’s not that there aren’t real life-needs — a genuine reaching for thriving — underneath whatever’s going on for me. It’s that when I’m reacting, I’m not clear enough about what my life-needs really are, to be able to trust the strategies that I come up with to try to meet them. So often what I think I need when I’m upset is really just a form of defense, and the last thing I want to do is pick (more) strategies that feed my defenses and continue to keep me unaware of what I’m truly needing. (Especially strategies that involve getting other people to be somehow different than they are.) I know that being unaware of what I’m really needing, and/or thinking that other people are more responsible than I am for whether I’m receiving what I need, is what’s causing all my pain in the first place.

So, paradoxically, to best meet my life-needs, sometimes it works best to NOT focus on identifying my life-needs, as my first step. It also helps to NOT defend my right to get my life-needs met, as a first step. What does help as a first step is to firmly ask myself, “right now:

  • am I reacting, or am I Choosing?
  • am I “on automatic” and feeling some urgency, or am I in a mindful, intentional, relatively peaceful place?
  • am I complaining or blaming (wanting someone else to be, say, or do something different), or am I noticing what’s happening and feeling compassion for myself and the other person?
  • am I feeling anxiety or pain that I “have to” get relief from, or am I able to stay present, let myself have my experience, feel whatever my discomfort is, and inquire calmly and compassionately into it?

I ask myself these questions because I know I can’t make choices that genuinely contribute to my well-being and to my life (relationship, health, home environment, work) from a state of anxiety, upset, blame, urgency, or anything else that’s reactive or “automatic.” From these states of being I can’t even understand clearly what’s really happening, either inside or outside of me.

So, when I realize that these reactive states are “driving the bus of my life” in the moment, I know the most helpful thing I can do is simply stop and disengage from whatever I’m thinking, saying, or doing. I don’t want to make any choices from these kinds of places, because those reactive choices inevitably make things worse. Often the only thing that really makes a positive difference for me is returning to that mindful, intentional, relatively peaceful place within me that can make authentic choices that truly serve me and my life.

Once I’ve brought myself back to that place, my suffering stops almost as if it’s been turned off by a switch, and I can authentically, powerfully, effectively say “yes” or “no” or make requests or do whatever is called for, to contribute to my well-being and support my thriving: to meet my genuine needs.

There are many awarenesses and skills in life that serve us deeply. Noticing whether I’m reacting or choosing has been one of the simplest, easiest, and most empowering, for me personally.

Blessings on us all,