Most often, and particularly now in this period of my life, I reflect on how I’m in the midst of some sort of personal transformation. A theme that has been popping up for me and others in my world is mindless reactivity – essentially recognizing when am I reacting to life vs. when am I responding to it.
Curious about the formal definitions of both, I looked up what Dictionary.com had to offer:
React: “To act in response to an agent or influence”
Respond: “To reply or answer in words; to react favorably”
“Respond” appears to be preferable when contrasting the two; it’s a favorable reaction. Just in saying either word, can’t you just feel the relief in respond vs. the tension in react?
Think about the last time you reacted to something or someone and recall how that felt. Your colleague make a snide comment that landed wrong? Your kid defied you for the 17th time? You hit commuter traffic when you’re already late for a meeting?
When I think about when I’ve reacted, I can’t help but cringe from the fact that it’s almost always involuntary. It’s as if something has taken over me and I have little control in the moment and what comes out is fierce. Rarely when contemplating or saying this sentence: “Sorry, I reacted…” do I not feel remorse. It’s almost like I’m apologizing for something in me that decided to act out.
It’s an ACT. One of the formal definitions for act is “to feign or counterfeit.” Doesn’t it feel like that when you re-act? And it’s no fun, right? Who wants to feel like a possessed crazy person?
On the flip side there’s response. Can you think of a time when you recognized that you chose to respond instead of react? That really grounded awareness you feel where you have complete control of your thoughts and words in just a way that you’re buzzy calm and powerful, yet compassionate and extremely present? I just did the other night. I was bathing my kids and my son, Aidan, takes one of his bath toys and drenches me. I was outside the bath, mind you, not intending on getting wet. An immediate surge of surprise, anger, and impatience emerged and yes, I yelped out and had the look of death in my eyes. But at that moment I also recognized that to go any further with the energy I was holding would be to react. In reaction, I would have missed the precious look of innocence, love, and an intense delight in his eyes because he just “got me.” In reaction, I would have also missed the adorable laughter from my daughter, Aila, and her look of complete amusement that Aidan made mom jump 2 feet in the air. I could have forgotten that it’s just water and missed a sweet memory in the making.
In that brief space where I recognized I was at choice to either react or respond, I graciously and gratefully embraced response. With it came lots of laughter and genuine joy, and of course a clear statement that we cannot do that to anyone outside the bathtub again. Interestingly, in the state of response, Aidan responded too and heard me more clearly than if I would of reacted angrily. Win-win for sure.
Can I intentionally have win-wins a majority of the time? Absolutely. It’s in catching that window and choosing a response, not reaction. It takes mindfulness – an ability to be aware of the moment while in the moment which is extremely possible with intention and practice. If we can observe ourselves when triggered, or more powerfully ACKNOWLEDGE that we’ve just been triggered in the moment, we capture the ability to choose. When that happens, we’ve won most of the battle because we’re already on our way to living powerfully, intentionally, and purposefully. With mindfulness we can catch ourselves at the choice point and choose not to be overtaken by an involuntary act, which we will almost always regret.
Reacting to life is accidental living. Responding to life is deliberate. Which way would you like to be living?
I’d love to hear from you. Can you make it a practice this week to choose response instead of reaction? What would it take for you to make that shift and live from a place of power and peace rather than force and upheaval? For those of you that have been practicing this for a while, what advice can you give us to help us to respond to life instead of react to it? Share your comments, questions, and examples below. Thanks in advance for your contributions on how you live life on purpose. xo