“Do not learn how to react. Learn how to respond.”
I was recently reminded by a friend’s post that I often like to suggest life is 10% what happens to us and 90% how we respond. Thank you, Summer Brown, for the reminder — you certainly embody that approach! It is why at times I put a focus on choosing the right response in my life and in my presentations.
One of the most common everyday occurrences of this challenge comes with the notion of learning to react rather than respond to events or actions around us. To be perfectly clear, I’m still on a path to improve my entire success with this challenge.
A reaction is the near immediate, often emotional or defensive response to something someone says or does around us. A response is the more deliberate, conscious, considered choice provided typically after at least a few moments of reflection. Reactions almost always mirror our interpreted emotional experience from the action while our response evaluates the many more complexities of the situation, ourselves, and those impacted by the actions we choose to take.
There is a seemingly obvious benefit to choosing to respond rather than react in nearly every situation. But how do we achieve this in practical terms and in practice?
Try the five-step, A B C D E approach.
A – Awareness
B – Breathe
C – Check
D – Distractions
E – Educate
First and foremost we need to recognize the moment in order to be best able to start the process. This is awareness or mindfulness rather than “mind fullness.” In any situation, be aware of what’s happening around you, acknowledge it so you have the opportunity to detect if a reaction is building.
Breathing is an excellent response to create an essential pause for consideration. It simultaneously creates a calming response within us, particularly if we are mindful of a slow deep breathe.
Check our considerations. While breathing, we might ask ourselves several questions to help convert from reaction to response. Is our internal consideration more of a reaction? What are we feeling? Does what we are considering continue that feeling? Who will be impacted by what we are considering and how will they be impacted? What do we want to come from our actual, ultimate choice?
Distractions should get some thought at this time as well. All too often our reactions are not caused by the specific event but rather from an overwhelming assortment of other stresses and challenges of which this one event might have simply provided an avenue for a response. Sometimes this requires taking perspective of the event that evoked our initial reaction vs. response consideration to fully understand how much more important it is to respond instead of react.
Educating ourselves and those around us appropriately by a more reasonably crafted response will generally ease our own concerns in the moment. Often this provides longer term solutions or resolutions for the actual concern you experienced. Just as your reactions are frequently defensive mechanisms, they all too often will cause a defensive reaction in those around us, propagating an environment which rarely leads to resolutions.
When the five-step A B C D E process helps create a culture of response-based exploration, the situation is more readily diffused to allow for the necessary learning and growth.
All of this sounds simple, but amidst the distraction of our daily lives it can be quite difficult. I can certainly find many examples of when I failed to apply this process, to my own detriment. In each of these, I find the opportunity to choose a late apology perhaps but better still the incentive to be more mindful and more aware of the opportunity to practice this approach. One common learning progression for me is that practice does make progress and each time I catch myself and follow the process, I get a little better and a little more natural in choosing to respond rather than react.