Feeling Overwhelmed?
Try Choosing Your Reaction

Catherine Pratt

Have you ever been asked, “Where do you want to go for lunch?”

Sure, we all have, right?

What was your answer?

Was it something like,
“I don’t care. You pick.”

At first glance, this might seem like a really strange question. But, how you answer this question can be a sign of much bigger things happening in your life.

When you’re asked questions like this, it can seem easier to let someone else decide. The number of decisions you’re required to make each and every day can feel overwhelming and you might think it would be so nice just to let someone else make the decision for once.

The problem is that it becomes very easy to get into the habit of doing this for a wide variety of areas in your life. You start to let others make all the decisions and you forget to ask
“What do I want?”

It feels like it’s easier just to react to things. You respond to other people’s needs and requests and you don't think that much about it.

It just seems easier that way. But, is it really? The truth is that it’s actually much more stressful.

Here are a few things that happen when you tend to only react to what's happening in your life instead of choosing your actions.

Feeling overwhelmed
You feel like tasks are things that you “have to” do. You're now committed and you may feel like you don’t have any choice in the matter. You must do these all these things that you’re now reacting to. Very quickly you can begin to feel overwhelmed because there just seems to be so much coming at you.

When you take the time to choose your actions, you then make the decision as to whether or not to do something but you also decide “how” and “when” it will be done. Subtle difference but it makes a huge difference. You're in control not the situation.

Here's an example.
I used to go grocery shopping every week. I really dislike going grocery shopping and I would dread it all week. It wasn't until I stopped and asked myself if I was reacting or choosing that I realized that there may be other options. I asked myself if it was really absolutely necessary that I go every single week. Now, after having analyzing my grocery needs, I've discovered that I can manage by only going once every two weeks. This small decision suddenly freed up a huge amount of time and also felt like a huge weight had been lifted off of me. I don't dread going anymore either because I've made the decision on how I will handle this chore. I questioned a belief I had which was "I need to go to the grocery store every week" and was able to come up with solutions.

When you make the decision to choose your responses then you can take a step back and ask yourself:

  • is this a good use of my time?
  • or is this really the best way to do this?
  • or what’s the real goal here and what would be the best way to accomplish this?

You can also decide if there are other options. Perhaps, when you look at the big picture, you see that there's a much better solution than what is currently being offered.

By choosing how to respond, you can also ask yourself if this is something that you really want to do or if it’s distracting you from your real objectives.

The one other really important thing that happens when you take the time to choose your reaction is that you can determine if the task is really important or if you just do it because that's what you've always done.

By consciously choosing, you also strengthen your will. You’re more clear on what you do and don’t want as well as what you do and don’t like.

You take back your power by taking responsibility for your life and what happens in it.

If you just react to everything, most likely you’ll start to feel resentment. Resentment that you have to do these things and that there’s never any time for what you want to do. You may also end up giving more than you want or can afford simply because you’re reacting to feelings of guilt. So, you end up resenting them even more while at the same time battling your feelings of guilt.

Someone tells you what you have to do and you may suddenly feel resistance to this. You don’t want to do it.

This can be a good thing if you take the time to decide that you’re going to choose your response instead of just reacting to your initial resistance feeling.

When someone asks you to do something, you can ask yourself questions like:

  • Is this a good thing to do?
  • Is there a better way of doing this?
  • Is this taking me in the direction I want to go?

You're much more in control of the situation when you choose your reaction.

Focus on Wrong Thing
When you react to situations, most likely you’ll find that you’re focused on “avoiding” something. Whether that’s avoiding feeling guilty or not wanting people be mad at you or to feel like you’ve let people down, etc.

In a reactive mode, you try to avoid something instead of moving towards what you want. As soon as you turn this around and choose your response, you’ll find that you’re now suddenly focused on solutions. You’ll no longer feel guilty because you’re focused on a solution instead. This is far more effective and you no longer have the negative feelings dragging you down.

Also, instead, now you can make informed and effective decisions.

When you decide to choose your reaction, you'll be able to go through the process of determining if there's any additional information that you need. You'll ask yourself things like:

  • What will happen if I say No?
  • What will happen if I say Yes?
  • Is there a better way of accomplishing this?
  • Do I need more information?

Then you make a decision. You take back your power and stop feeling pressured when you take the time to choose your reaction.

I went through this process recently when my father suddenly became quite ill. I instantly felt guilty that I hadn't been spending much time with my parents. I then felt overwhelmed because I didn't know how I was going to fit in a trip to see them. It seemed like there were a lot of obstacles to go see them and I just didn't know how I was going to fit it in on top of everything else.

Once I stopped reacting to the situation, everything became much clearer. I asked myself what I wanted and determined I wanted to spend more time with my parents. Then I could focus on "how can I spend more time with my parents?" and the answers just started to come to me. So, now I've gone and visited them a few times and am planning more. The situation completely changed when I decided on what I wanted and how I would do that.

When I just reacted to the news that my father was sick, all I could feel was guilt and it wouldn't have mattered how much time I spent with them, I would have continued to feel guilty because that's what I was focusing on.

Feeling Overwhelmed Summary

It’s a very subtle difference between reacting and choosing but it will make a huge difference to how you feel.

If you suddenly feel overwhelmed, ask yourself if it’s because you’re reacting to everything instead of choosing your response. Or if you’re feeling resentment, ask yourself why.

As you go through your day, you may discover that you do spend a huge amount of time reacting to everything. Try choosing instead and see what an amazing difference it makes to how you suddenly feel about things.

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