Learn To Respond, Not React

Do you have patience to wait until the mud settles and the water is clear?

Much of our lives is spent in reaction to others and the events around us. The problem is that these reactions might not always be the best course of action, as a result, they can make others unhappy, making things worse for us, make the situation worse.

Why would we want to make things worse?

The truth is, we often react without thinking. It’s a cut reaction, often based on fear and insecurities, and it’s not the most rational or appropriate way to act. Responding, on the other hand, is taking the situation in, and deciding the best course of action based on values such as reason, compassion, cooperation, etc.

Let’s take a quick example:

React: Say your child breaks something because they are angry. You immediately get angry and tell, upsetting the child and yourself, worsening the situation but not making anything better.

Response: Your child breaks something and you notice they are angry because you said “NO” you pause and take a deep breath. Your first response is to check the child to see if their Ok- is the child hurt. Then instead of yelling and upsetting you or your child, maybe sit the child down and calmly discuss why what they did was not right. Or I used to put my child in time out for about 5 minutes, then have the child help clean up. Then give them a hug.

This choice presents itself to us all the time, whether it’s a co-worker being rude or an argument with your spouse, and so on. There will always be external events that bother us, but if we learn to respond and not just react, we can make things better and not worse.

When my husband and used to fight. He would patronize me, and I used to scream at him and start crying and say things I would regret later and then he would hold everything against me. When I used to respond instead or react that we began to solve our problems.

Learn How To Respond

The main thing to learn is mindfulness and the pause.

Mindfulness means watching ourselves when something happens that might normally upset us or trigger some kind of emotional reaction. Pay close attention to how our minds react.

Then pause. We don’t have to act immediately, just because we have an eternal reaction. We can pause not act, breathe. We can watch this urge to act irrationally arise, then let it go away. Sometimes that takes a few seconds, other times it means we should remove ourselves politely from the situation and let ourselves cool down before we respond.


Now consider what the most intelligent, compassionate response might be. What can we do that will help the relationship, teach, build a better team or partnership, make the situation better, calm everyone down, including ourselves?

At first, we might mess us. But in time you’ll learn to watch your reaction and get better at the pause. Don’t be upset if you mess up-just resolve to be more mindful when it happens next time. Take a personal note of what happened to trigger your reaction, and pay attention when something like that happens again.

Be mindful, pause, then consider a thoughtful, compassionate response.

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