Do I React or Respond?

react or respond

It’s a good idea to slow down and self examine from time to time. It helps us grow. The world is always giving us feedback about who we are and how we’re doing. One thing you can ask yourself is “Do I React or Respond?”

Reacting is about moving impulsively without thinking things through. Reacting often comes from a place of habit and fear. It’s what we learned to do to stay safe. Or maybe it’s what we learned to do as a child and our behaviors haven’t matured. So perhaps they aren’t as effective as they could be. An example is when someone cuts in front of you and you flash your lights and yell curses out the window.

Responding is taking time to assess the situation and evaluate responses that will give you the most satisfactory outcome for all impacted parties. Responding considers the big picture. It comes from a place of mindfulness and is a component of wisdom. An example is when someone cuts in front of you and you slow down to give them space. 

Maybe the person didn’t realize that they were too close. Maybe they were just being careless. It may have scared you and put you out of sorts for a moment, but in the big picture, no damage was done. Escalating could put others at risk. Slowing down and making space puts things back in a place of equilibrium.

How to Respond?

If you didn’t learn how to respond, you may not know where to begin to create change. Let me walk you through it.

Use the Nonjudgmental and Observe Skills

So, the first thing that happens is some sort of event. Events are always value neutral. They don’t have meaning until we give them meaning by looking at the context. So we want see what there is to see (observe) and avoid labeling things as good or bad (be nonjudgmental). We just want to keep them as dispassionate facts. Here are some examples:

  • it’s raining
  • that driver got too close too fast
  • I don’t have enough money
  • my child dropped his milk and made a mess all over the floor

If we catastrophize, the situation immediately gets worse. If we see things nonjudgmentally, it’s just data.

Be Effective

Once we’ve assessed the situation, we need to choose a behavior that is effective. Being effective is about resolving the issue in a way that works for all involved parties, the short term and long term, and keeping your values intact. In many cases, there is nothing to do. If it’s raining and we’re nonjudgmental about it, perhaps it ceases to be a problem. Or maybe we adjust our schedule to allow us to slow down. If I don’t have enough money, I could adjust my spending, borrow, or find creative ways to make more money. When my child spills his milk, I can have him help me clean it up so that he learns responsibility and the floor gets cleaned.

It’s very rare that events mean we fall apart. If we save our meltdowns for those times, we have a lot smoother life.

If you find yourself reacting more than responding and need some help with that, reach out and ask for help. Everything can be learned. Wisdom comes with experience. It isn’t bestowed on anyone. You can acquire it with practice and help.

Context Matters

context matters

A lot of people want a formula to live life. They want a plan to follow that helps them succeed, find happiness, and stay safe. The problem with that is that even the most sound advice won’t work all the time because context matters. Take a look at these examples from well known proverbs.

You’re never too old to learn.
You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

It’s better to be safe than sorry.
Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Many hands make light work.
Too many cooks spoil the broth.

Look before you leap.
He who hesitates is lost.

The best things in life are free.
There is no such thing as free lunch.

Two’s company, three’s a crowd.
The more the merrier.

Birds of a feather flock together.
Opposites attract.

The truth will set you free.
Ignorance is bliss.

Life is fluid. When you live out of habit, you’re going to get into situations where your actions aren’t functional because they don’t fit the current facts. What works at age ten might not work at twenty-one. What is funny in the United States could be really insulting in China.

So, if you’d like a different tactic to use that does work for all situations, try using the Effective skill. Being Effective is about looking at the whole situation, then doing what is best for the big picture, small picture, and everyone impacted. You will see that sometimes it’s best to go slow and steady, and sometimes you need to make haste. Sometimes it’s more effective to stay quiet (silence is golden), and sometimes it’s more effective to speak up (the squeaky wheel gets the grease). Mental flexibility is a useful thing because wisdom really is situational.