Year To Success

Lesson 29: Responding vs. Reacting

During my high school and college years, I was, at times, what we called a real “hot head.” I was very easily angered and often expressed it. What I did not realize at the time is that my anger and hostility would often be misdirected due to my initial reactions. I reacted first, then thought later rather than thinking first. Responding, on the other hand, is reaction with thought.

In martial arts, we teach kids and adults the importance of controlling anger and using their brain to avoid conflict before resorting to physical contact. This is done with practice, and lots of it. Stopping yourself from reacting to situations is not easy, since it seems almost natural (thus the expression “natural reaction”). However, this concept is so important that every effort should be made to avoid reacting to situations and start responding to them.

Here are some reasons why your response to situations can be vital to your success:

  • Many business deals include emotion and emotion causes reactions. Doing or saying something in a business dealing out of pure emotion is rarely a good idea, and it often causes you to make a poor decision.
  • Success begins with self-esteem or how you feel about yourself. Have you ever felt good about yourself after “barking” at a co-worker, friend, or loved one?
  • Responding to a potentially life-threatening situation could save your life. You can’t be successful if you are dead! (I guess you could be successfully dead...)

Responding is reaction with thought. As we already know, your mind is an amazing tool that is capable of generating appropriate responses to situations in a mere fraction of a second if you let it. The key is to work on holding back initial reactions until your brain has a chance to present you with the proper response. Some people refer to this as “getting composure.” Have you ever seen a person get all emotional when rebuking a statement someone had just made then in the middle of their yelling just stop, take a deep breath with their eyes closed and calmly say something such as, “Listen, I am sorry for getting so upset, but...” This is a perfect example of response taking over a reaction, and a great first step. As you consciously work on responding to situations, the time between the stimuli and response will lessen until it is almost instantaneous. Once you master this, responding will be a task handled by your subconscious mind, and it will be done without any conscious effort.