As we find ourselves immersed deeper and deeper into an unpredictable world, we can quickly succumb to the noise and cacophony of rapid change. When times are uncertain, a natural reflex is to close our minds, stick our heads in the sand, and wait out the storm.
Although this response appears to be an act of protection and personal safety, it’s simply reacting to fear—and when we react instinctively to our fears, we surrender the ability to choose our responses. Over time, our actions can become automatic as we continue to reply unconsciously.
But there is an alternative: Responding deliberately.
Responding deliberately to the world means recognizing that all things—both wanted and unwanted—will always exist. And we have the power to choose where to place our focus.
Responding deliberately means understanding that we experience our attitudes, actions, and words as choices—outcomes of our thoughts—while realizing that our beliefs and opinions are always changing, just like the world around us. And this is good.
Responding deliberately involves shifting our thoughts, but it doesn’t mean we ignore the problems of the world—it means we realize we already have the power to respond by noticing what we are focusing on: problems or solutions. As humans, we can respond intelligently to the brain’s natural reactions—this is what makes us response-able.
According to Eldridge Cleaver, “You either have to be part of the solution, or you’re going to be part of the problem.” Cleaver makes a simple, yet poignant observation: When we pay attention to something, we create momentum in that direction.
With this understanding, our choices are simplified. If we don’t want illness, we focus on health. If we don’t want war, we focus on peace. And if we don’t want to perpetuate hate, we focus on love.
If we find ourselves paying attention to the things we don’t want, we can always return to the power of our thoughts and shift our focus to the things that we do want. This choice is one of our greatest gifts.
Here are a few tips to help shift our focus if we find ourselves tuning-out because of our fears:
Pay attention. By simply becoming aware of our thoughts, we can begin to shift away from fear. Our environments and the people in them are our biggest influencers. By noticing what and whom we are paying attention to, we can deliberately choose our thoughts, words, and actions, knowing that everything we say and do makes a difference. This is known as the ripple effect.
Watch assumptions. It is natural to assume—to believe that we understand what we are experiencing at all times. However, all is not what it seems. Often we experience only our own perceptions based in previous experience, blinding us to new information or knowledge. These tend to be the “stories” we tell ourselves. Even though assumptions are natural, we can always dig deeper by asking questions and checking our assumptions for validation. This is critical thinking in its richest form.
Be informed. A quick path to fear-based behaviors comes from a lack of information. Just as our assumptions may naturally lead us astray, staying in our fear for long periods of time induces myopic and limited thinking—and if gone unchecked, may fuel delusions and paranoia. Facts can dilute fears and bring clarity to blurry boundaries. In addition, being alert to sources of fake news can help establish truth and clarify misunderstandings.
When in doubt, reach out. Sometimes the best way to face our fears is to reach out and learn from others. Often, the stories of others bring us solutions and help generate alternatives. In addition, the lessons learned by others can help us avoid common pitfalls. If we remain curious, the answers to our questions are often embedded within the experiences of the people around us.
Compassion in action. One of the fastest ways to respond deliberately is to demonstrate empathy and compassion. Even though we have natural triggers for these emotions, consciously being aware of the intentions of others and being willing to understand their disposition—especially when it is drastically different from ours—is a critical life skill. Compassion is especially important in our closest relationships, where our fears may hover nearest to our hearts.
Responding deliberately to our world is, indeed, the key to maintaining our balance and equilibrium during tumultuous times. Won’t you join me in learning how to harness our power to create more love in the world rather than to perpetuate more fear? I’m in.
Michael Thomas Sunnarborg helps people maintain balance during transitions in their work, relationships, and life. Learn more at michaelsunnarborg.com