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  • Sunday Sanctuary

Learn To Observe, Not React

There's not a soul on Earth who's gone their entire life without having a knee-jerk reaction to an event, comment, or situation; a strongly worded email you regret the minute you press send, or a snide remark in the heat of the moment. Learning how to observe, rather than react to events is a skill, and can have a positive impact on our long-term mental wellbeing, as well as any future sticky situations.


The very first step sounds easy, but controlling our desire to react to events or conversations isn't a walk in the park. We all have a desire to be heard, to justify our point of view, and to defend our mindset - but reacting immediately can sometimes fan the flames in a direction that doesn't truly reflect who we are. Taking a moment to pause allows us to take internal stock of what's going on within, before we engage with our external circumstances.


Figuring out exactly what we feel and why we feel it is something we don't give too much thought too. Knee-jerk reactions can be bundled up in insecurities that are only made worse by reacting straight away, so taking the time to identify your emotions (anger, sadness, embarrassment, pain), and working your way towards understanding why you feel them may illuminate something within yourself that has very little to do with the situation or comment you're reacting to.


Whilst getting space isn't always possible - if you're sat at the dinner table or in a meeting for instance - removing yourself physically from an event that's triggered an emotional reaction helps put things in perspective. Temporary distractions such as a walk, watching TV, or playing with a pet are great ways to allow your initial feelings to simmer down to a point where you can return to them with a cool head, and respond to the people or situation that caused them calmly. If you're unable to get physical space for an extended period of time, excuse yourself for a bathroom break or try some grounding techniques to bring your mind back to the present.


Once you've taken stock of your internal reactions, the root of your feelings, and allowed them to simmer down, it can be helpful to reflect on how you feel now, versus when your reaction was first triggered. The more frequently we're able to recognise our reactions before they happen, the more adept we become at observing them rather than responding to them.

Final Note

Reigning in our initial reaction to something negative isn't easy; getting defensive or angry is a human response to unpleasant situations, but it usually isn't the healthiest way forward. Learning how to observe before you react can make positive long-term changes, and avoids you saying something you regret.


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