Notice, Discern & Respond Your Way to Greater Freedom

blog inner thoughts notice thoughts voices Aug 31, 2022

Blog by Gem Fadling

Holocaust survivor and psychiatrist Victor Frankl is attributed with saying, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space lies our power to choose. And in our choice lies our growth and our freedom.”1


It seems we are invited to engage the space between stimulus and response. Minimally, within that space, a choice is possible. But what might the process of choice look like, especially in the realm of our thoughts?


Notice, Discern, and Respond (NDR) is an empowering approach to working with your thoughts. It is a practice that my husband, Alan, initially titled “unhurrying your thoughts”2 and one that we have shared with leaders around the world. I have greatly expanded on the idea of NDR and have been using this model in my coaching groups with women, and it has been bearing good fruit in that context as well. 


I’m suggesting that NDR is one process you can engage in that space. Armed with the empowering NDR process, you can move a thought from unhelpful to helpful. You can lean into powerful and gracious questions so that your own inner Spirit-led wisdom can help you make your way forward. And the beauty is it works whether you are making a quick shift or if the change will take some time. 


Once you become familiar with this simple practice, it can become an underlying way of discerning as you engage your own thoughts. Let’s take a look at moving through the process of NDR. 



Take the time to notice an unhelpful thought. As you work with the thought, at first, simply see it. Write it down and look at it. You cannot change what you do not see. You don’t have to judge the thought; you can simply notice and hold it in God’s presence. Built into this kind of noticing is the beginning of acceptance. You are no longer hiding from the truth. Noticing leads to discernment and is especially helpful when working with desires or weaknesses. 



Discerning is about becoming more curious. Openness and honesty really help here so that you can uncover what is really going on. Look at the unhelpful thought you noticed and wrote down. What is the tone? Is thinking this thought still working for you? Is it true? Will this be a quick shift, or will it take some time to change this pattern? In God’s presence, turn these questions into prayers, and let yourself explore. 


Discernment isn’t simply about finding answers. Holding the questions themselves can be stretching and deepening. Use helpful inner-process resources, engage with a wise friend or counselor, or empty your thoughts into your journal. Learn more about yourself and the issue. 


Discernment is the key to becoming wiser and more confident. It is also the precursor to more healthy responses. Some thoughts will shift easily and some with require more time. Either way, in time, you can move toward responding. 



Once you have spent some time discerning your thought, what is one simple shift you can make or step you can take? Rather than reacting, you can move gently through Notice and Discern into Respond. Responding then becomes an overflow rather than a manufactured headlock you place on yourself. Action flows freely in response to what you’ve noticed and discerned. And remember that sometimes your action may not be an outward to do. It may be more about receptivity or some other dynamic of remaining open. 


Process matters in this case, especially if you want to make lasting change. In the work of changing your thought, consider a reframe and the shift you would like to make. This may happen quickly or, depending on how deeply this thought is anchored within, it may take a while. But either way, simply take the next step and keep going until you have a new healthy pattern. 


Notice that I use the words helpful and unhelpful. Not good and bad, or even positive and negative. The real question here is whether it’s helpful or not. We don’t need to judge our thoughts; we simply decide if they are helping us move toward wholeness and then adjust as necessary. 


For example, anger, and the thoughts surrounding it, is usually considered bad or negative. But, at times, harnessing our anger can lead to healing or move us toward necessary action. We also tend to think sad thoughts are bad. But sadness helps us move through our grief. Both anger and sadness are inevitable on the way to the deepest healing. So be careful about how you label a thought or a feeling. 


Good and bad are binary terms and we are so much more complicated than that. On the extreme ends of binary thinking, we may end up with either toxic positivity or nihilism. We are trying to address the healthy middle here, the daily struggle to not be trapped by our thoughts or emotions. 


To think and to feel are both good and necessary, and we want to learn how to live healthy versions of ourselves in the midst of the ups and downs. With discernment and proper companionship, you can walk this journey toward wholeness. 



  • How attuned are you to your own thoughts? 
  • Today, try simply noticing your thoughts and see what themes emerge.
  • Remember not to judge your thoughts. Simply notice the unhelpful ones and maybe even write them down.
  • You can always move on to discern and respond later. Noticing is a great first step.



Adapted from Hold That Thought by Gem Fadling. ©2022 by Gem Fadling. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press.


1Alan Fadling, An Unhurried Leader (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2017), 

2This quote is attributed to Viktor Frankl, but the original published source is un-