I don’t want to be reactive. I want to have more control over my emotions. I want to have more focus. We all want more control over our lives. We want control over how we interact with our feelings and to enjoy a higher quality of life. We want to have a more significant impact on the world and improve our relationships' quality. Most of us don’t like it when we snap at our significant other or our children. That isn’t to say we won’t get angry, but most of us don’t like it when we say things out of anger. We don’t like it when we make rash decisions in the heat of the moment. We want to be more thoughtful and organized in our actions, words, and behaviors, but how do we do that?

Learning to control our minds is one of the most challenging skills that we will learn. It can be seen as a superpower by some, but in reality, it is called emotional maturity, knowing to handle how we feel gracefully. But where do we start? For most of us, the first thing that we will need to do is learn how and when we are reacting. We need to work on something we call composure, which can control our focus, decision-making, and physical presence. 

We react to situations for a variety of reasons. We react when we are ashamed or frustrated, also when we are rejected or dismissed. We react when we win a race, solve a problem, or finally get that date we were hoping for. We need to understand that our bodies, minds, and brains are wired together. They jointly react to our environment and to situations causing us to think and feel. Combined, these reactions cause us to either consciously or unconsciously make the decisions that guide our lives. There is a lot to untangle here, but we will start in one particular area of awareness, becoming aware of our physical reactions.

How can becoming aware of our physical reactions cause us to gain control over our emotional responses and improve focus?

To gain control over ourselves, we must first understand and identify how, when, and why we react. In chemistry or other sciences, we learn about cause and effect. The objective is to understand how and why chemicals interact. The same is valid when learning about ourselves; we want to know how, why, and when we react to our environment. To understand why we react, we first need to identify what we are reacting to and when it is happening. By understanding the what and when, we will gain insights into how our mind is wired and give us choices about how we choose to react.

We experience a variety of physical reactions. Sometimes we feel our heart beating faster or heat in our hands. Maybe we start sweating or get the chills. We might even have a sudden urge to go to the bathroom, or our stomach might start grumbling. We may become physically tense or have a headache. All of these and more can be physical reactions to our environment. Our interpretations of the environment cause these reactions. 

Sometimes these physical reactions occur because of our emotions. Other times they occur based on the way we are thinking about a situation. Sometimes, they happen so fast we don’t know why they are happening. The point is that we want to become aware that there is a link between our physical reactions and our minds. 

Awareness of our physical reactions starts with observations. When we first begin this practice, it is hard to sense everything going on in our bodies. We can start by doing a body diagnostic. You can do this activity right now. Close your eyes and imagine an x-ray like machine scanning your body from head-to-toe. As the scan goes over your body, it describes the physical sensations you are experiencing. It may say things like, right now, my teeth are clenched, and my cheeks feel tight. It might say my lower back is sore from sitting, or my feet feel heavy. There is no right or wrong sensation to identify. The point is that we are starting to take account of how our bodies feel. 

As we learn more about how our bodies and minds work, we will learn to link our physical reactions to our experiences. We will be able to use our awareness of how our bodies feel as clues to give us insights into better managing situations, improving focus, and making better decisions.