A Simple Guide to Respond rather than React

9th December 2022

Read time: 3 minutes

 

How many times have you reacted to someone or something, and moments later, you regret what you did or what you said?

It could be 5 minutes, 5 hours, 5 days or 5 years later but no doubt that regret will sink in.

You then realise that you wish you hadn’t reacted so emotionally.

When faced with unexpected or pressured situations in life, we go down two paths: Respond or React.

The trouble is, it’s hardwired in our neurochemistry to want to react emotionally first.

In his brilliant book The Chimp Paradox, Professor Steve Peters explains this emotional brain as “the chimp” and the logical brain as “the human”, essentially who we want to be.

However, all information must pass through our emotional brain first, to get to our logical brain, our true decisions. And so learning to manage ‘the chimp’ is the basis of Peters’ book.

To keep it simple:

Reacting is Emotional

It’s impulsive, abrupt, and sometimes thoughtless.

Responding is Logical

It’s considerate, studied and thoughtful

When we respond rather than react, we are able to:

  • Make better decisions
  • Build/Heal relationships
  • Feel more stable in yourself
  • Act in accordance with your best self

Response = responsibility

Responding is a play on word for responsibility. It is thoughtful in its nature. When we take responsibility for the decisions we make, we’re far more likely to make deliberate, conscious decisions.

Reacting emotionally to a situation very rarely ends up with a positive outcome. I’m yet to meet someone who regrets taking that extra moment to make a better decision.

My clients, whether athletes, businesses, or teenagers, all make better decisions when they access this response.

Yes, there are emergencies that require quick thinking, but the majority of our interactions are not life or death. And even in high-pressure, fast-paced sports, there is time to make much more logical decisions by simply taking a little more time.

Responding creates what can be called the “mindfulness gap”, which is space between the event and what you do (or don’t do) with it. Use the most developed part of your brain to make the best decision.

You get time to think, to understand what is happening, to plan using your best abilities, and to go forward in accordance with your better self.

 

Practice responding

What it takes is practice. It’s easy and comfortable to react, due to its immediacy and ease. Responding is harder. It requires conscious effort.

However, as with most things that take effort, they pay off far more.

So here’s a simple guide to helping you practice becoming better at responding.

Take a Breath

When you feel the urge to want to fire back. Pause. Take a breath. Even the time it takes you to take a breath could give you enough time to start processing the information.

Assess the situation

Take the time to process what is going on.

Plan your response

What is the best response you can give here? What do you need to do, say, or think to be proud of yourself when you look back on this moment?

Progress forward

Take the action; proceed with what you’ve planned. Sometimes a great response is no response at all. Or perhaps it requires even more time to calm down—a great option if time allows it.

When you continuously react to situations, life can become an emotional rollercoaster. Yet choosing your responses allows you to access this deeper, more stable sense of who you are and feel more capable of handling the ever changing world around you.

Whenever you're ready, consider:

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