When unexpected events occur—which, of course, they always do; the only real constant in life is change—most people go down one of two roads. They either respond or react.
Responding, a spin off from the word responsibility, is considerate and deliberate. Reacting, on the other hand, literally means to meet one action with another one. It is immediate and rash.
Reactions tend to go like this: Something happens. You panic. Then you proceed.
Responses tend to go like this: Something happens. You Pause. You Process. You Plan. Then you proceed.
I talk often with my coaching clients about the difference between reacting and responding. It’s simple: two P’s versus four P’s. Reacting is quick. Responding is slower. Responding creates more space between an event and what you do (or don’t do) with it. In that space, you give immediate emotions some room to breathe, better understand what is happening, make a plan using the most evolved part of your brain, then go forward accordingly.
Responding is harder than reacting. It takes more time and effort. It often requires letting a strong itch—the yearning to immediately do something, anything, about whatever just happened—be there without scratching it. But, like most things that require effort, responding also tends to be advantageous. You rarely regret deliberately responding to a challenging situation. You often regret automatically reacting to one.
What seems to happen is that the more you practice responding instead of reacting not only do you start making better decisions but you also start to experience a part of yourself that is not so susceptible to change, at least not in the way you usual experience it. It’s the part of you that pauses, processes, plans, and proceeds. The part of you that is akin to the canvas upon which the content of your life is painted.
When you react to a situation you fuse with it and become it. Going from one reaction to the next is an emotional roller-coaster. When you respond to a situation, however, you put a few degrees of freedom between a deeper and more stable sense of self and the ever changing current of your life.