The Difference Between Responding & Reacting

Humans are emotional creatures. I know shocking… We have emotions for a reason, but most of the time acting on those emotions isn’t the best route of action. Instead, it is often best to take a breather and respond to the events that are causing the emotions. Some of us are better at managing emotions than others, but that mainly comes down to practice.

The key difference here is impulsivity. When you react to your emotions, you aren’t thinking your actions through and are being impulsive, following the emotional drives that are stirred within you. Typically they are rooted in fear and insecurities which makes our rational mind go completely offline. When reacting we fuse with the emotion and it becomes “us”. Once this occurs we are a bomb waiting to go off. This is a recipe for an emotional rollercoaster. Comparatively, responding implies rationality, something that has been thought through, even if only briefly. Responding is rooted in values of compassion and cooperation.

How do we learn to respond instead of reacting?

It starts with a pause. A brief mindful moment where you watch the anger from the insecurity rise and fall. Emotions always dissipate if we don’t feed them. This is where you re-engage your pre-frontal cortex and can look at multiple perspectives while formulating a response. Responding takes time and effort, so you will naturally fall into old patterns of reacting if you don’t practice this often. Mental habits are no different than any other habit you’re trying to break. Repetition is the key to success.

“Do you have the patience to wait till your mud settles and the water is clear?” ~Lao Tzu

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