Do you react or do you respond?

I’m in the midst of a pretty intense personal development process all in service to transforming and evolving. It’s been an incredible journey so far and I’m coming to new insights that I’m not just becoming aware of, but actually putting into practice to affect significant change. A theme that has been interwoven throughout this process is reactivity – essentially recognizing when am I reacting to life and when am I responding to it.

Being curious about the formal definitions of both I came across this in Dictionary.com:

React: “To act in response to an agent or influence

Respond: “To reply or answer in words; to react favorably

When I see these two together it’s as if “respond” appears to be preferable. “Respond” is reacting favorably so it would follow that responding would be a more ideal choice. Even in saying either word, can’t you just feel the relief in respond vs. the tension in react?

I’m a possessed crazy person!
Think about the last time you reacted to something or someone and recall how that felt. Your mom make a comment that made you lash out? Your kid defied you for the 17th time? You hit commuter traffic when you’re already late for a meeting?

Just thinking about what reacting is, I undoubtedly get that subtle cringe that comes 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?

I can see clearly now.
On the flip side we have response. Can you think of a time when you recognized that you were responding to something and not reacting while in the moment? That really grounded awareness you feel where you have control of your thoughts and words in just a way that you’re buzzy calm and powerful yet compassionate? I just did the other night. I was bathing my kids and my 5 year old, Aidan, takes one of his squirting bath toys and drenches me. I was outside the bath, mind you, and was not intending on getting wet. I felt that immediate surge of surprise, anger, and impatience emerge and yes, I yelped out and had the look of death in my eyes. But in that moment I also recognized that to go any further with the energy I was holding would be reacting. In reaction I would of missed the precious look of innocence, love, and intense delight in his eyes because he just “got me.” Oh, that DELICIOUS knowing he genuinely got me. What kid doesn’t want to do that to their mom, right? In reaction I would of also missed the adorable giggle from my 15 month old and her look of complete amusement that mom just made a funny sound and jumped 3 feet in the air.

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.
– Viktor Frankl

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 deliberate statement that we cannot do that 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 and recognize we are at choice to respond then we’ve won most of the battle. 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 vs. responding – which one would you like to be living?

I’d love to hear from you. Can you make it a practice this week to deliberately choose to respond instead of react? 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 choose response overreaction? Share your thoughts, questions, and examples below and let’s get a good dialogue going around living life on purpose.

(P.S. If you’re curious about the process I’ve embarked on or want to know more about how to effectively recognize and grow that space between stimulus and response then ping me and let’s talk. 🙂 )

Amy Eliza Wong is a life coach, writer, and speaker in the Sacramento, CA area committed to helping people figure out what makes them tick so they can finally live with joy and real purpose. Learn more about working with her.

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