Reaction vs Response: Part 1

Do you remember the last time you jumped to anger? Frustration? A simple annoyance turned into an all out, adrenaline-fueled rage? In the heat of that moment, did you ever think of stepping back, taking a few deep breaths and reevaluating the situation?


This instinctive leap to anger and frustration is a learned behavior leftover from when fighting, be it physical or mental, may have meant life or death. It is a reaction. As human beings, we are accustomed to reacting to a situation. In our modern life, some of us move through the world “waiting” for the next annoyance; the next issue that we “know” is hiding around the corner to be discovered. The idea that we need to protect ourselves as a way of “dealing” with unforeseeable events with irritation, or irrational anger, is a common fallacy – because currently, we see this thought process as a natural, modern way of life.

What if, though, we were able to consistently deal with conflict by taking one breath, a mere half a second, to allow a developing dilemma to register within? To consider the scope of the so-called problem and recognize that in most situations, a jump to anger will have no positive outcome – on the solution or on the relationship with the news-bearer? This way of dealing with life’s ups and downs is called response. Responding to problems takes a higher brain function than the simple good/bad, happy/angry reaction pattern. It requires us to have control over an element of our subconscious emotional state and to use that power to decide how to move forward.


Now that we have discovered the fundamental differences in reaction vs. response, can you identify a time in which you reacted rather than responded? Consider these situations where anger may strike:

  • Receiving bad news; a broken contract, a disappointing business or personal development
  • Dealing with frustrating or complicated bureaucracy (cable/internet are big ones!)
  • Driving situations – especially (but not limited to) Los Angeles freeways (!)
  • Family matters (good, bad, all of it…)

As these times are fresh in your mind and you can recognize a time where you feel as though you reacted, ask yourself if there may have been a better way of dealing with your feelings. Maybe taking a breath, stepping back, and silencing your lips and opening your mind would have changed the outcome of the situation. Can you visualize another way of behaving?

Think about talking to a loved one with compassion – does your response to the cable man have a different tone? Do you have an extra second to repeat a Starbucks drink order? Most likely, you will see that we have a chance to decide how to react or respond to thousands of situations everyday – and the very first step in the shift towards kind responsiveness is recognizing that you have a choice as to how you will act.


As you move throughout your life for the next couple of weeks, try to become aware of the way you react or respond to conflict, and cultivate a sense of mindfulness. Set an intention to find this shift within and begin to take into account all interactions with family members; bosses, coworkers or employees; service professionals and complete strangers. In time you will see where your strengths and weaknesses for this behavioral pattern lie and you will be able to cultivate an even deeper subconscious response practice!

Do you tend to be more reactive or responsive? Let us know what you think and how you may change your life with this simple technique! Also, make sure to check back for part two: Practical Ways to Overcome “Reaction” and Live a More Responsive Life for more tips and tricks as to how to make these patterns flourish in your world!

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