Responding vs. Reacting
Life is yucky. At times it is unpredictable, scary, ugly, and unforgiving. Life is also beautiful. It can be pleasant, kind, and beautifully surprising. And this can be all in one day. We choose moment by moment to either respond or react to what life gives us. A reaction is generally quick without much thought, almost like an instinct. A response is a thought out action. Usually reactions are driven by emotions such as fear, embarrassment, or anger. Responses are measured actions that can be based upon these same emotions. Responses allow a person to have an initial first thought without doing the initial first reaction. Reactions are connected to conscious and unconscious thoughts, biases, and beliefs. Responses consider these along with consequences and outcomes.
How to respond instead of react
1. Give yourself time. When we're emotional we are more likely to react instead of respond. We are literally cut off from the part of our brain, the prefrontal cortex, that is used to make the rational decisions that are necessary for responding. So the major element of responding is time. When we have been emotionally triggered, we must give ourselves time to respond; for the brain to calm and access the critical thinking part of itself. Use grounding techniques such as deep breathing, sensory recognition (using our senses to embrace the environment around us), or progressive muscle relaxation.
2. Evaluate the situation. Once we have the gift of time, we next need to think. Think about the situation. What was going on? What thoughts were going through your head before, during, and after the event? What emotions were tied to these thoughts? If others were involved in the situation, what were their possible thoughts and emotions? Next think about ways to respond to the situation. What are the positive and negative consequences of each response? Are you willing to pay the price of each response?
3. Make a decision. After evaluating the options, make a decision. Remember, when we make a decision, we are choosing whatever consequences come from it, even the ones we don't anticipate. This can be a difficult step. Sometimes it seems as if there are no good options. In these instances, choose the option that you can live with. It may be temporary or permanent, but choose the one you are willing to live with.
4. Activate your response. A decision without action is a thought stuck in limbo. Be confident in your decision while giving room for humility and the possibility that your response may not be well-received. Have empathy for yourself and others in the situation, be mindful of your boundaries, and remember to come from a place of good.
Is this possible?
It is. Really, I promise you. Talking about responding and reacting often takes longer than the actual process. Our brains are beautiful organs that can process tons of information very rapidly. Giving yourself time could be as simple as taking a deep, belly-busting, breath. And within those few seconds, your brain is already in evaluating and decision-making mode. If you need more time, walk away. Remove yourself from the situation as safely as possible. Ask to talk about it later. Tell them you need time to think. Walk (or run) out. Then continue through the steps. Like with any other skill, the more you practice the easier it will become.
(C) 2020 The Hope Pusher, LLC | Dr. TJ Jackson