I’ve heard it so many times in the personal development world and I shrugged it off. I didn’t think I could reset my attitude or mood in the moment by adjusting my reaction. Until I did it. Now I’m a believer.
That ‘it’ is the famous quote from Epictetus that reads It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.
I’m sure you’ve heard it a few times or at least once. A lot of us like the post that it is used in or the image that we see on Pinterest, but we don’t think twice about it. We go on about our scrolling and don’t actually apply that #true statement. I was that person. Until today, the day I’m writing this.
I started my day off by waking up when my body woke itself up before my 5:00 am alarm and taking my time getting ready for work and meditating and journaling. I started work and had trouble with my Airpods actually working with my Macbook and then I stepped on the side of the treadmill that doesn’t move and had to catch myself before I fell. It was a morning. But I was determined to have a good day, so I kept my mood up and shrugged those things off. Then I read something from someone I know about abortion that I disagree with and that was insensitive and a coworker laid into frustrations and I started to take a nosedive into a pretty sour mood.
My anxiety was rising and I was getting emotional. I was ready to pour a stiff one and call it a day. But then something came from nowhere that reminded me of the Epictetus quote. I didn’t remember who said it or what the full quote was, but my subconscious was telling me “control your reaction”. Then I started thinking through my reaction and the consequences of whichever way I let it go or directed it to go. I had a choice to make.
I could either let the emotions and frustrations well up and spill over uncontrolled or I could put it aside and choose to not let those two things bother me in that moment. I chose the latter and by making that choice, I had a pretty good day. I took a step back from my computer and disconnected for a couple of minutes (seriously, it was less than five minutes). When I came back, I ignored the comments about abortion, and objectively replied to the frustrated coworker.
I controlled my reaction in the moment because that is what I needed. It completely released my frustration about my frustrated coworker for the day. I didn’t have any lingering frustration arise once I shut down for the day. It felt good. But that control only set aside my feelings about what I read. Those feelings are so deeply rooted that I need to work through the emotion on a deeper level and it might take some time (read: days or weeks or whatever).
Controlling your reaction in the moment doesn’t mean you are forever putting aside your emotions or feelings involved in the situation, it just means that you are controlling that moment so you can either process later or shrug off the little things. It means you are able to continue that conversation in real-time because that is what is required of you. It means you don’t react to frustration with frustration and cause more issues. It means you are conscious of your verbal and non-verbal queues and you adjust accordingly.
Controlling your reaction doesn’t mean your reaction is incorrect or offensive or a problem. It means that you know you can direct your mood and attitude in the direction that best suits the situation. It means you can choose positivity over negativity. It means you are in control of yourself rather than your subconscious being in control over you.
Controlling your reaction doesn’t come easy and won’t always work out best. It takes practice. Hell, this was the first time that I knowingly and consciously worked through controlling my reaction and I’ve been working on personal development for years. It doesn’t matter how long it takes you to implement what you learn, just don’t stop learning and don’t lose that fire to be the best you.