Do You React or Respond To Life’s Situations?


In any situation, there are always two choices we can make – we can react to it, or, we can respond to it.

What is the difference between reacting or responding?

Here’s a very simple demonstration that clearly shows the difference between the two;

You are driving. You find yourself slowing down to an almost grinding halt. You are now stuck in a traffic snarl up. And so what are the typical sound effects for such a scenario? Motor horns honking, shouts of frustration from some drivers who’ve wound down their windows to let the world know of their frustration. A rumble of discontent all around, some muffled, some not.


Unhappy woman stuck in traffic

What this is, is a classic example of people instantly giving an emotional reaction to a situation over which they feel they have little or no control over. Generally, dealing with a scenario in a blind reaction type way, rarely helps. (Though not always, as you’ll read a little further on) Frustration, and perhaps the feeling of helplessness, simply builds and grows, rather than to dissipate and fall away. And the inevitable result of that? A general carry-over of frustration, misery and anger – that’s then taken in to the workplace, the home, the retail outlet or wherever a person has to get to next.

So, what’s the alternative to a caustic or emotional reaction?

The alternative is to give a less charged emotional response. And that’s done by taking a little more time to interpret one’s thoughts and perceptions about the scenario.

So instead of the usual… ‘why me… not another clog up… why does this always happen… can’t these people get off the road… I’m going to let the car in front of me have it…’ the alternative way to making instant & reactive comments or actions, is to reframe and rethink the thoughts we ourselves have created to label the situation as we see fit.

What could be possible alternative thoughts to the ones described above?

“…Ah, it’s not just me, we’re all in this clog up together, let’s see what game I can play to keep my mind active and happy… the country’s economy is looking on the up with so many cars on the road with people all getting to work or wherever they have to get to… I wonder how the person in front of me is dealing with this slow crawl, I hope they don’t lose their heads over it!…”

Just a shift of thought in how we see a situation, and then our responses to it, will either have us in a positive frame of mind, or… deep inside a caustic, reaction based solution where everyone else it to blame, but us.

happy-woman-stuck-in traffic

So when we’re in a frame of mind where we are consciously aware of our thoughts and aware of our conscious next-step choices… we’re in a more solution oriented mode. And in the case of the traffic clog up… that might mean calling ahead to let people know what’s happened. It might involve planning an alternate route to in order to avoid the congested route the next time we need to drive through the same area.

This ability to choose our thoughts and actions instead of depending on others to create our moods and happiness, leads to our creating our own happiness… in the moment, doing what we can do to keep ourselves happy, relaxed and stress free.

How Can We Develop More Considered Responsive Thoughts, Actions and Behaviors?

Before showing how to tune up our response making muscles, there are times where an instant unthinking reaction will be exactly what’s needed. For example, if there’s a fire in your home and you have to get your family or relatives out fast, you’ll most probably do it without consciously thinking and planning what your next actions will be – you’re most likely whirling away like a mad person, not paying any real attention to the possible responses or options, not caring about your own health and safety.

So what can you do to start developing your responses to most everyday situations and scenarios?

The answer is to have a series of questions that’ll in turn, help guide your thinking and then give you possible options, responses and solutions to your next actions and behaviors.

Here are those questions.

  1. What are the many other possible ways of responding to this scenario? (There is generally more than one answer, solution or way of looking at the same scenario or problem. And just by the assumptive nature of this question it presupposes there are pre-existing ways of responding to the scenario)
  2. What facts am I missing? (I possibly don’t have all the facts here so I might not be 100% correct in my reaction here…as is generally the case in most communication misfires)
  3. Whom do I respect and how would they handle this situation? (We all have people in our lives whose suggestions and opinions we value. We can either consult them or go into our imaginations and think through how these people in our lives would handle the same scenario we find ourselves in)  
  4. What will bring a happy conclusion to me and to the other people involved? (We all instinctively know what causes us stress and negativity, and… what causes us happiness and peace of mind. Many times, the solution to internal happiness is to not respond or react to a scenario at all, we simply just need to observe, be aware of the situation, and let any emotional connection we have about the situation, dissipate – just like the scenario with the car traffic jam)
  5. How quickly can I take my ego out of the equation? (When we can see the situation or scenario as if we’re looking down on it from a high up vantage point, as if we’re not involved, emotionally detached from situation – then we’ll have more opportunities to quickly solve the problem because of having no emotional attachment to the outcome)    

Whether we react blindly or respond with awareness and accuracy, we’re continually asking ourselves questions about the problem, scenario or situation.

When we react blindly to situations, we’re unaware of how fast we’re asking the wrong questions…and then, at blinding speed, process and act in accordance based on those questions. That’s a recipe for potential danger, yet, we’re generally unaware of what takes place inside our minds and brains in that short space of time between the stimulus, and… our response.

And on the other side of the coin, when we respond to the same situation with awareness and by giving ourselves the time and space to ask the kind of questions that’ll help us create a happy response or solution, the resulting situation or scenario is a fluid and pleasant one.

Helping you to develop the habit of responding in a measured and accurate way to any situation where possible conflict or emotional angst occurs, is a skill that needs regular practice. And you can begin that practice by using and incorporating the 5 questions in this article to any situation you intuitively know causes you frustration and anguish. Of course, if you want to master these skills at a higher level, an appropriate and suitable coach will help you reach your goal, faster.


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