Guest Blogger, Coach Billy, the Canadian Centre for Men and Families (CCMF)
Respond, not React
At our Canadian Centre for Men and Families (CCMF) coaching sessions and meetings we explore many topics including the difference between how, in difficult situations, we often find ourselves reactive. We encourage the ability to choose to respond, not react.
Definition of Responding versus Reacting
Respond is rooted in the word responsibility, which indicates considerate and deliberate thinking and behavior. React means to meet one action with another one. Here is an example of reacting.
It was beautiful day when it happened in an instant. I was walking my dog Dexter, passing by a house where people were moving groceries from car to house. As their front door opened, a pit bull flew off the stoop speeding towards Dexter! I reacted instantly and instinctively with no need to think. I quickly removed myself and Dexter from the neighbourhood.
There are situations we find ourselves in which we need to react. Our survival needs make it imperative. It’s hard-wired into us: when we sense danger, our biological systems automatically put us into a high state of readiness known as the fight, flight, or freeze/collapse reaction.
But seldom do we need that animal instinct. In reality, most days, our survival isn’t threatened. But that doesn’t stop our ever-vigilant brains from being triggered into reacting as if there is mortal danger around corners. That triggering of the sympathetic nervous system becomes a regular distress to our system. Your brain’s alarm system might be triggered by a curt email from your boss or an unwelcome call from the ex-spouse. But reacting, instead of responding, rarely helps us make the best decision or move. We all know it but it takes more than knowing to change a habitual reaction.
The good news, it is possible to escape the self-inflicted pains of reactivity. We can choose to respond, not react. But like everything else, it takes discipline and practice.
Responding means thinking before acting. It means disconnecting from the limbic brain, that innate survival mechanism. It also means operating above the line, which means acting more rationally than emotionally. We do better when we respond.
Our culture with its go-go, never-switched-off mode of operation too often incites reaction. A reactive existence is hard to escape, even when we know it can help us dig a deep hole of anxiety, stress, or depression.
Three Steps to Become a Responder instead of a Reactor
Stop taking life’s lumps and bumps personally. Personalizing life challenges is a huge source of reactivity. Nothing is personal unless we make it so. When a fellow motorist makes a rude gesture, you can choose to take it personally and react, or you can choose to wonder what created their bad day. It’s your choice. There are a million reasons why people act the way they do. They are accountable for their behavior, not you. Nobody can make you react without your cooperation. Remember, nothing is personal unless you choose to make it so.
Start to notice your emotions. Be aware of when you feel angry, triggered or otherwise operating below the line. Notice and then take a breath, maybe ten or even 100. By noticing you will discover that almost nothing is urgent. Time is on your side as a well thought-out response will serve you better. If it helps, take a day or two to respond. Use the old adage, “I’m going to sleep on it.”
Alternatively, no response at all may be a completely legitimate and appropriate action. Who says you must respond to a text or demand? No one that will give you wise counsel.
I heard somewhere that reacting is emotional, while responding is a demonstration of emotional intelligence.
Decide to respond or not. Next time you are triggered to react to a situation, write a draft response to yourself. Leave it for a day. Then ask yourself these five questions:
- What is the likely consequence of this response?
- Am I reacting or responding?
- Am I escalating or de-escalating?
- What kind of response, if any, best serves me or the situation?
- Is the best decision to let it go?
Another option to manage your reactive habit is to use the S.T.O.P. rule:
- Take a breath
- Observe your thoughts (emotions)
- Process next step
Visualize yourself as a calm, rational responder, someone who controls their life ship. Consider using these strategies to choose to respond, not react. Your life will immediately and substantially improve.
With loving kindness, Coach Billy
Note: Not only is Coach Billy a member of the Canadian Centre for Men and Families (CCMF), he is also a volunteer coach. Founded in Calgary Alberta, CCMF exists to support men in having their realities validated, their mental health strengthened, and their contributions to healthy relationships at home, work, and community acknowledged. For more information about the CCMF Click Here.
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