React or Respond – 3 Ways to Nurture Mindfulness in Your Life

React or Respond – 3 Ways to Nurture Mindfulness in Your Life

Some variation of a desire to feel in control of our lives, powerful, and strong, is often the foundation of psychological distress.  As humans, we naturally wish to feel safe and grounded, and this means that it is important for us to feel like we have some power surrounding what is going on in our lives.  It is a healthy, natural urge that we sometimes attempt to harness via unhealthy means.

This idea is conceptualized by the idea of a locus on control.  In a nutshell, an internal locus of control (LOC) indicates that the individual believes that they have control over what happens in their lives, while an external LOC indicates feeling that outside forces are in control.  It can be a challenging concept to accept, as an internal LOC also requires the individual to take ownership of how their behaviors positively and negatively impact their lives.  It can be difficult to bear this responsibility as we transition away from blaming others for what is happening to us, and work to be mindful of how we can effect change in our lives.  In fact, research indicates that an external LOC is linked to poor mind-body wellness, while an internal LOC is associated with improved psychological and physical wellbeing.

Being mindful of our LOC is a fantastic way to begin taking back control in our lives.  Another way to look at this is that we are working to be mindful of our reaction to different situations, and realizing that we have a choice about how we react.  In fact, our behavior is largely the only thing that we have control over.  We cannot control the behaviors of other people.  We have the choice to respond mindfully, or to react mindlessly.

So, what can we do to harness mindful control in our lives?  Below are 3 mindfulness activities you can try to foster mindful response and a sense of control in your life.

  1. Return to your breath.

When we become agitated, physiologically our bodies respond.  Paying attention, or being mindful, about how your body is reacting to a situation can provide you with valuable clues about whether you are about to react or respond in a situation.  If you feel your heart rate accelerating, maybe you are growing warm, and your breath is becoming shallow and faster, respond by choosing to practice some mindful breathing.

Try this:  Place your hands on your belly (this is great because we can do this discreetly, even in a public place) and begin to consciously work towards lengthening and deepening your breath.  Pay attention to how each breath causes your hands to gently rise and fall.  If it is comfortable for you, work towards 3 counts on each inhale, and 3 counts on each exhale.  For as long as you would like, inhale to 3, pause, exhale to 3, pause, and repeat.  Pay attention with each of your senses to your body and breathe as you breathe.

  1. Ground yourself.

Sometimes, when we begin to feel distressed, we get caught up in the moment.  It can feel as if we are being swept away in the raging currents of our emotions.  If you catch your mind beginning to race, consider reminding yourself of the present moment.

Try this:  This is another activity that can be very discreet.  Begin by sitting upright in your chair with your shoulders slightly in front of your hips, feet shoulder width apart, head tall, palms laying gently on the top of your thighs, and chin gently tucked towards your neck.  Modify your position if necessary, striving to be comfortable yet alert.  Now begin to press the soles of your feet into the ground (maybe you are even barefoot).  Imagine that there are roots, like the roots of a tall, strong tree, growing from the soles of your feet and rooting you to the floor.  Pay attention to this physical feeling of being grounded and stable.

  1. Foster curiosity.

Mindfulness does not intrinsically “fix” things or solve our problems.  However, changing your mindset and perspective can minimize the intensity of our feelings and put you in a better position to respond in a healthy way.  For example, moving towards a mindset of curiosity moves you into the stance of an observer, where you are less caught up in the emotion.  (Black, 2015) From this perspective, we are more able to view a situation objectively.

Try this:  Once you identify that you are feeling uncomfortable, begin to imagine that you are watching as different emotions “show-up” in your mind.  You are curious about what emotions you are feeling.  Name them as they appear, perhaps silently saying something like “Frustration is here”.  Maybe you can even personify each emotion, imagining what it would look like and how it would behave if it was a creature (Think Inside Out, the movie).

Mindfulness takes practice, just like any other skill.  In order for it to be implemented successfully, you have to try it out in low intensity situations, so that you are familiar with the practice and can utilize it when you are flooded with challenging emotions.

Remember, you have a choice.  You can respond rather than react.  Don’t allow people or frustrating, difficult situations to control whether you have a healthy response, or an unhealthy reaction.


About the Author:  Danielle is a provisionally licensed mental health practitioner in Omaha, Nebraska. She is a sole proprietor at New Leaf Therapy Associates, LLC, and enjoys working with individuals and families.  Danielle utilizes trauma-informed techniques and mindfulness with her clients, helping them to feel empowered and more in control of their lives.

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