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Responding versus Reacting

Updated: Jan 8, 2023

True health comes from listening to your whole self.

Virtually all of your thoughts and feelings are conditioned responses to past experiences. It's a normal strategy for dealing with new opportunities. But if your strategy is flawed, you'll continue to get low returns on your efforts -- both in your personal and professional lives.

Eventually, something will pop up and push you out of your comfort zone. If you don't have a strategy to deal with new challenges, it won't be long before you buckle under the pressure.

Reaction is an emotional, subconscious decision that is made without consideration for the consequences usually in haste. Commonly referred to as a "Knee-jerk Reaction"...(1)

Stop reacting and start responding. Being able to respond with a clear head is extremely important. Each day is filled with decisions that shape the future of your life When you react to life, you're acting from either memory or old habits. But to build a successful and healthy life, you need to be ready to respond calmly and rationally.

Response is the conscious effort to take a step back, (breathe), review the situation, (become aware and present), attempt to figure out the probable cause, and consider the available solutions.

Responding means observing with intensity and awareness. It means not jumping to conclusions, seeing the situation from every angle and accepting that your opinion may not be the only one or even the best one. The more you listen to yourself, the easier it will become to pinpoint your old conditioned reactions. As the feelings occur, you can create new responses and let the faulty reactions fade away.

Responding creates more space between an event and what you do (or don't do) with it. In that space, you give immediate emotions some room to breathe, better understand what is happening, make a plan using the most evolved part of your brain, then go forward accordingly.

Making the shift from reacting to responding takes emotional intelligence and patience. Here are a few strategies to get you started:

1. Collect yourself.

Before reacting, pause and allow your initial emotional reaction to pass. Then address the opportunity again, and see how you respond differently. Repeat this process, giving yourself time to work through your old conditioning. Consider going for a walk. This will give you time to relax and settle your thoughts.

2. Tune in to your feelings.

Clarity is tough when you're under pressure, so never make an important decision when you're feeling anxious. If you're not physically or emotionally up to the task, put off making a move until you're in the right state of mind.

3. Move around.

A health break never fails. Besides giving you time to think, physical activity helps dispel that anxious energy. In fact, studies show that college students who engage in weekly exercise have reduced feelings of hopelessness, depression and suicide. I like to go to the gym, put on my headphones and just give myself time to not think about life's challenges. This creates solutions from a clean sheet, rather than inside the problem.

Life is a series of events and experiences. Each one is an opportunity to grow and become a better person. So take on each challenge with fresh eyes. Reacting in the same way to new experiences won't get you where you want to be personally or professionally.


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