Updated: Oct 23, 2022
Learn how to respond vs. react by slowing down and practicing mindfulness.
What does it mean to react?
How many times have you snapped at a loved one or reacted in a way that you aren't proud of later? Or you've made a defensive comment or lashed out, but didn't really "mean it"? (I am definitely raising my hand!) This happens to many of us much more than we'd like to admit. Reactions are usually instinctual and happen almost unconsciously. They can be driven by our survival instincts and our defense mechanisms when we encounter uncomfortable feelings or situations.
What does it mean to respond?
Responding is a way of engaging with another individual or situation with intention and thought. When we respond we can be more intentional with our actions and language and consider how they might be perceived by others. There still may be difficult emotions and discomfort, however we can respond in a manner that is more aligned with the person we want to be and our values. Responding often is not easy, especially when we're coping with difficult situations or conversations.
How can I learn to respond vs react?
For many, this is a life long lesson that we all must practice constantly. However, the first step to go from reacting to responding, is to notice when it is happening. It is very difficult to make changes in areas of our lives when we are not aware that they are happening. Start by simply monitoring and witnessing when you are reacting rather responding. Do you notice that you're short tempered in the mornings when you're rushing out the door? Or you're more irritable after you've had a long day at work? Or perhaps you haven't gotten in your daily movement and feeling sluggish? Start to pay attention to when you react in ways that leave you feeling like you didn't respond as you wanted. Just creating that awareness will start to slowly shift your mindset and actions.
Just push pause
Once you've identified those moments when you have that knee-jerk reaction, start to practice pausing. This is really HARD. It's that 3 second period you have right before that not-so-nice comment or harsh tone leaves your mouth. But that pause is important to reinforce self-awareness and give you the space to respond with intention. Many times it is helpful to create a mantra or a grounding practice to foster that pause. Taking a deep breath, putting your hand over you heart, or drinking a glass of water can give us that necessary cue and time to think about how we want to respond to the difficult situation or uncomfortable emotion. Often reciting in your mind "respond, don't react" can be a helpful reminder to help you during those moments.
At times it can be useful to step away from the situation when we're feeling really charged. This can be challenging especially if we're having a difficult conversation with a partner or dealing with child's tantrum. Sometimes stepping away and taking a few minutes to collect ourselves can help us respond in manner that best supports the situation. By creating space and being aware of our own feelings and needs, we're often more able to respond with kindness and patience.
Practice, practice, and practice. And sometimes practice self-compassion.
Again, this is not easy and for many of us this is a lifelong practice of tuning into our thoughts, feelings, and needs. By practicing mindfulness and creating space for us to respond intentionally, we can strengthen our self-awareness over time. This in the long run can help us engage with others in a way that is more aligned with our values and how we want to show up in the world.
However when those moments do arise and we react in a way that leaves us with feelings of regret, shame, or guilt, it is important to reflect and also practice self-compassion. None of us can always respond as we would like 100% of the time and therefore, when we have to those difficult moments, it is important to show ourselves kindness and self-compassion.
Being able to practice self-compassion can also help us grow from these experiences so we can continue to move towards our values and the best version of ourselves.
Learning grounding and stress management techniques can be helpful in respond rather than reacting during challenging situation. If you're interested in learning more contact Kristin today to schedule a free consultation.
***The ideas, concepts, and opinions expressed in all Living Openhearted posts are intended to be used for educational purposes only. The author and publisher are not rendering medical advice of any kind, nor are intended to replace medical advice, nor to diagnose, prescribe, or treat any disease, condition, illness, or injury. Authors and publisher claim no responsibility to any person or entity for any liability, loss, or damage as a result of the use, application, or interpretation of the material.