Saturday, March 14, 2009

Action vs. Reaction

The other day, Iris and I were talking about "doing gratitude" and it occurred to me that the concept of doing gratitude (versus say, "experiencing a sense of gratitude" or "feeling grateful") may sound a little funny to a lot of people. So, here goes...

If you're like most of us, you probably think of your emotions and feelings as reactions (to situations, people and events), not actions. Someone cuts you off in traffic and you react by feeling angry. You miss the start of a movie and your natural reaction is to feel disappointed. You get together with a close friend whom you haven't seen in years and you feel happy. You lose your job and experience anxiety or fear regarding your ability to pay your bills.

Our life experience clearly indicates a cause and effect relationship between events and emotions. Something happens; we experience an emotional response.

However, what if we started to view our emotions and feelings as actions, not reactions? For the moment, forget about how to do it. Just consider the possibility.

After being cut off in traffic, you give yourself an amazing sense of calm and ease... While sitting alone in a plane thousands of miles from everyone you know, you experience the warmth and comfort of being surrounded by your closest friends... After losing your job, you simply decide to feel confident and optimistic... and then do it. I mean, really do it! Not by pasting on a facade or reciting a mantra, but by deeply and sustainably feeling good about the whole situation.

The ability to proactively respond emotionally could significantly change your entire experience of life. Further, it would allow you to react to situations much more effectively.

For example, if you were looking for a new job, you would have a much greater likelihood of landing a good one if you were confident and optimistic through and through. If you were traveling frequently on business and away from family and friends, you would probably be much more effective in customer meetings if you didn't carry a sense of isolation or loneliness. Imagine how different the roads would be without people reacting angrily to other drivers.

So, if you agree that the concept is a good one, then the next question is how to actually implement it. You might be thinking, "Hey, I did lose my job and I did really feel bad about it. My emotions and my feelings are real. They're a natural human response and there's nothing I can do about them."

Well, that's where the "doing gratitude" concept comes into play. Although you may not be able to turn your emotions on a dime, there are things you can do to start to transform your emotions from reactions to actions. One of them is to take time to be grateful for people, situations and events in your life.

For example, if you're having a bad day, stop for a moment and write down five things for which you're really grateful. It might be your family or a close friend or your new car or your ability to do the kind of work you do. It might be the weather or the place where you live. It can be anything at all. There are no right or wrong answers here. Just take time to be grateful for specific things in your life.

Better yet, if there are people in your life for whom you're grateful, take a few minutes to let them know about it. Not just that you are grateful for them, but why you're grateful for them. Be as specific as you.

If you're like many people, the act of doing gratitude will result in a positive change in your emotional outlook and experience.

Over time, we'll talk about ways to completely transform your experience of emotions from passive or reactionary, to proactive. For now, a great way get started and to experience the possibility of this is to take time for gratitude.

So, this week's homework assignment is to take ten minutes each day and do some gratitude. Remember to be as specific as you can regarding the people, situations and events for which you're grateful. To make this exercise even more effective, make your gratitude bigger by saying it out loud (this could be fun in the coffee shop or subway or office), or writing it down, or emailing the person for whom you're grateful.

Have an amazing and proactively happy week.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent, this has me recalling my own forum/group many years ago, around the theme of 'volitional consciousness' our freedom/responsibility in realizing and celebrating this awesome, rather unique gift it seems us spirits having a human experience are endowed with.

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