When was the last time you reacted instantly in a difficult situation and immediately regretted what you said or did? If you’re like most of us, something probably comes to mind right away. If you’d like to learn how to stop this practice and instead learn how to respond not react, you’ve come to the right place!
We’re going to talk all about reacting vs responding, how not to react when something triggers you, and go over a few common ways this shows up in life.
Reacting vs responding – what is the difference?
Instinctively, you probably know the difference between reacting and responding. Here’s some more detail on what it means:
Reacting can cause you to say and do things you didn’t really want to say or do.
Do you ever look back and wish you hadn’t said or done something? If so, you probably reacted. While hindsight is always 20/20, there is another way to act, and that is responding.
Responding is a more thoughtful approach to your actions. When responding, you don’t immediately jump in and speak out or take action when you see or hear something. Instead, you take a pause and deliberately think before acting.
While responding doesn’t mean you’ll always say the right thing and never look back and wish you’d acted differently, it does mean that you will be less likely to regret your actions.
Respond don’t react – why does it matter?
You may be wondering, why does any of this matter? Well, as we’ll discuss below, you’ll face tough situations in life all the time.
From relationship issues to career decisions to your finances, you’re bound to encounter a problem that you can either react or respond to. If you respond instead of react, you’re more likely to look back on your actions and not have any regrets.
How not to react – can it be done?
Now that you understand what it means to respond as opposed to react and why it matters, you probably want to know what to do with that information. How do you put this into practice?
While the concept is quite simple, responding is not taught to most of us. It’s actually a skill you have to learn and practice!
Just like we aren’t born knowing calculus, neither are we born knowing the best way to respond. And, just like you probably forgot calculus right after high school (if you’re like me, at least!), you will also lose the skill of responding if you don’t put it into practice.
The good thing about responding is (unlike calculus), it’s really helpful in your everyday life. So, let’s dive into the step-by-step process of how not to react!
How to respond not react in four steps
There are four steps you can take in any situation in order to respond not react. Once you understand this process, it’s important to practice it.
Remember, you can’t just read these steps once and magically implement them in all situations. It takes some practice to get the hang of it, but in time, you definitely will!
This four-step process of responding doesn’t take much more time than reacting. In fact, it’s all internal and takes just a split second or so.
Nobody else will even notice what you’re doing! It’s like a secret skill to add to your mental health toolbox.
Let’s dive into the four steps!
1. Gain awareness of what has happened
Before you even utter a word, make a move, or act, the primary step is to be aware of the situation. Gaining awareness is all about mindfulness.
What is mindfulness? Essentially, it means being aware of the present moment. It involves paying attention to things that trigger you and stopping yourself from acting on that trigger.
Mindfulness is a practice. It’s more of a state of being than an action you take.
It can be cultivated over time, and the more you practice this, the better you will get at gaining awareness. Then, you can move on to the second step – pausing before taking any action.
2. The key to mastering how to respond not react: take a pause
Once you’ve gained awareness of any situation, in order to respond not react, you must pause. It doesn’t even have to be long, but you must consciously pause and let your immediate reaction pass.
The easiest way to do this, especially as you develop your new responding practice, is to take a breath (or a few). Breathing is an effective way to bring yourself back to the moment, take a pause, and prep yourself for the next step.
3. Consider possible responses
After becoming aware of your trigger and stopping yourself from reacting, it’s time to decide how you want to respond. Unlike reacting, responding is a conscious choice. You consider your next steps or your next words.
Just like the pause, it doesn’t have to take much time. You can go through a few responses in your head, or perhaps you will just know the right one because the pause was all you needed. Either way, consider how you want to respond.
4. Act on what feels right to you
The final step is to do what feels right. How do you want to show up? How do you want to act?
What response will make you feel good about yourself? That’s the goal of responding.
By choosing your response and not acting on impulse or reaction, no matter the outcome, you’ll know that you took a moment to choose your action and that will always feel better than reacting without thinking.
Does learning how to respond not react mean you’ll always say or do the right thing?
Mastering these steps doesn’t mean you will always have the “perfect” response in every situation. But, it will guarantee that you will have a more thoughtful response and one that you will be satisfied with more often than not.
Respond don’t react – putting it into practice
What does responding not reacting look like in real life? Here are a few scenarios you might encounter and what it looks like to react vs respond:
Saying yes when you mean no
A classic reaction is when you say yes to something but you don’t really want to do it.
Let’s say you’re asked by a parent at your kids’ school to join a committee. You react – out of pressure or guilt – by saying yes even though you don’t want to. Now you’re stuck doing something you don’t have the time or the interest for.
But what if you respond instead? By taking a pause and responding, you’ll be more likely to say how you really feel. No, you cannot help out this time, but you’d be happy to do something else in the future.
Getting angry at your partner
Relationships are another area where reacting vs responding comes up all the time.
When something happens in your relationship that you don’t like, like a partner coming home from work late without an explanation, your tendency might be to react. This might look like yelling or even accusing the other person of cheating.
If this happens, do you know how not to react? To respond instead? Responding might look like taking in the situation, recognizing you feel triggered, taking a breath, considering your possible responses, and then acting with intention instead of on emotion.
Perhaps instead of accusing your partner, you ask questions to get more information, and the situation is diffused instead of escalated.
Calling out a coworker
Another space where it pays to respond instead of react is at work. Have you ever experienced a coworker who blames you for a mistake in front of a client or a boss? Your immediate reaction might be to call them out in anger during a meeting.
But your response, once you consider the situation, might be different. Perhaps you realize that it would be better to pull your coworker aside after the meeting instead of making a scene in front of the client. Whatever you choose, responding will always be the very best route to take.
Making a financial mistake
Lastly, you can also practice the mantra of “respond don’t react” when it comes to your finances. Maybe your bills are starting to pile up and you don’t think you can afford to pay them off.
Your immediate reaction is one of panic – how will you make these payments? Acting on that reaction, you open up a high-interest-rate credit card to cover your expenses and put the issue out of your mind.
What if you practiced how to respond not react instead? You’d let the initial reaction pass and take a moment to really think about your options.
Can you dip into your emergency savings fund temporarily to pay the bills? Pick up an extra shift at work? What other options do you have that are better for your long-term finances than opening up another credit card?
Whatever you choose (even if you decide that opening a new credit card is the right route to take), by responding instead of reacting, you’ll know you’ve made the best decision for yourself.
Learning how to respond not react is key to living your best life!
By implementing this small change, you’ll start to see improvements in every aspect of your life. Remember, respond don’t react!