How to Shift from Reactive to Responsive: Freedom to Choose

by | Jan 26, 2021 | Personal Growth

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I’ve been finding it easy to slide into unconscious, mindless, and reactive response patterns lately. Some childhood patterns are rearing their pretty little heads again, asking for more care, courage, and consciousness from my adult self. I’m reminding myself to stay grounded, well-fed, well-rested, and well-resourced as layers of internal material arise to be metabolized.  

Whenever I find myself in places like this, I find it helpful to contemplate and rest in the spaces between external stimuli and my internal responses.  

Creating more space, more breathing room, more consciousness between the things “coming at me” and the things “rising up in me” is a helpful practice when I am feeling off-kilter.  

I’ve been especially sensitive to ways in which I’ve been interacting with technology and the various devices in my home. Sometimes, I feel like I’m tied to my phone and email, a bit like a puppet on a string.  

For example, I’m having a conversation with a friend, and it goes like this:

Their phone dings: some notification has arrived. 
“Sorry,” they say, “I just need to get this…” 
They send a quick text and then focus back on me. 
Minutes later, my phone dings.  
I glance down, surreptitiously skimming the incoming text without opening my phone. 
Perhaps I smile. 
My friend asks, “Something funny?”
“No, nothing,” I reply, realizing I prefer to keep the content private.  
I feel internally divided. Uneasy. 
My attention keeps getting split. Fragmented. 
“Where were we?” one of us asks the other.
“I’m not sure,” the other one replies, awkwardly trying to find a way back to a real, live connection with one another.  

Moments like these have become all too common and normalized in my daily life, and I’m tired of feeling internally divided each time something flutters across my phone screen or shows up in my email. 

I “drop” people energetically far more frequently than I want to be doing when I am with them. My relationships with myself and others pay a heavy price. I find myself more distracted than usual, more reactive than usual, more stressed out than usual.  

As I’ve begun to tune into my patterns around technology and more specially, the way I relate to technology while I am in conversations with real people, I’ve noticed that I impulsively respond to phone calls, texts, and emails in one of two ways: 

  1. I either reply almost instantly, wanting to get the notifications taken care of and eliminated as soon as possible; or 

  2. I let them go and wait to deal with them at a “later” time that hardly ever comes as they sink further and further below the visibility window on my email. It’s as if on a deeper level I know that I am so inundated with tasks and notifications and emails and texts that I either get back to people the instant that they reach out, or I risk three weeks passing before I tune back in again.  

Today, a few urgent-sounding emails arrived in my inbox. I began punching out quick replies, buying into the urgency of needing to respond immediately. Then a friend’s voice echoed in my mind: “Does this really need your attention right now? What would it be like to put more space between various stimuli and your response to them? What would it be like to come from more choicefulness, present, and grounded responsiveness?”  

I appreciate these questions. They slow me down. They help me drop into more self-connection. 

The growth process for me happens like this: 

  1. Habitual and unconscious living

  2. Becoming aware of these patterns getting replayed

  3. With awareness, practicing self-compassion so that I don’t turn on myself or others 

  4. With awareness and self-compassion, having a moment of choice

  5. With choice, having the freedom and power to co-create a new path forward

I’d like to be more present in all my moments. I’d like to be more choiceful and responsive to stimuli in my life. I’d like to be more mindful and conscious about what I am actually doing with my attention instead of letting it be hijacked by the incessant and relentless dinging and buzzing and tiny red numbers that hijack my freedoms.

I find myself imagining something new, something better:

I imagine more internal spaciousness around the stimuli coming at me and the way in which I do — and do not — engage with said stimuli.  

I imagine staying focused and task-oriented when I interact with my devices, making sure they are serving me as tools to further my own deeper purpose, mission, and values in life.  

I imagine scheduling time each day to attend fully to their voracious, greedy demands for my time and attention and having a clear stopping point. 

I imagine long periods of time each day in conversation and presence with myself and other real people, attending fully to the relational spaces that embrace and nourish our beings.  

I imagine my sovereignty and ability to choose my response. 

I imagine slowing things down and getting more present. 

I imagine more being and less doing, more loving and less tasking, more relating and less distracting, more presence and less avoidance. 

I imagine centering human connection and putting devices back in their proper places, both literally and metaphorically.

Some questions to consider:

  • What is running you these days, instead of you running it?  

  • What tools are you finding yourself enslaved to, rather than using them to enhance your well-being and relationships? 

  • Where have you inadvertently given away your power to external stimuli, instead of staying grounded and choiceful in your own conscious, creative awareness?  

This week, find places where you can create more space between a stimulus and your response.  

Set an intention to stay connected to your own ability to choose and respond instead of just reacting, and then watch (with oodles of self-compassion) where you get stuck, where you stumble and where you soar.  


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1 Comment

  1. Genevieve Giblin

    Your writing is spot on. Thank you, Yvette…..Another aspect that shows up is when there are two different ideas about ones connection to their phone. When on person is attached, and the other not…..for maybe days…….and the confusion when making plans.


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