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There are times where when I sit down with myself and re-think a situation or scenario, and I realize I could have handled the situation better, and the only way to do so was to not lose my calm. Please tell me this happens to you too, and I am not alone. Sometimes, these reactions of ours can give rise to bigger problems and can make people around us unhappy. Only if, we could analyze our reaction and respond accordingly, we would be happy. And, the good news is WE CAN!
The thing is, we often react without thinking. It’s a gut 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 in simple words it’s called evaluating the situation first and then responding to it. By responding, you can save yourself from a lot of trouble and drama in life.
Also read: Asking for Emotional Consent
When we react without thinking, it causes harm not only to us and our mental health but also to the other person. Before dealing with a situation, one must know what factors gave rise to the problem, isn’t it? So let’s learn, what factors make us react?
The way we react is most of the time reflexive, which means it is stored in our brains and is a reaction to what has happened to us in the past. To understand this, let’s look at a scenario. Suppose you recently learned to ride a bike, and while riding it you met with an accident and got severely injured. Now, your brain has stored that painful memory of you riding a bike so the next time you are asked to ride a bike, you most likely will feel anxious, or scared or may even refuse to do so because your brain is developed to protect you, even when objectively you can tell that you are in no danger. That will be your reaction and to change it, you need to heal from your past trauma. Once you do so, you’ll be able to ride the bike again, confidentally.
Responding, on the other hand, is different. Rather than letting our pre-programmed behaviors take the reins, to respond we must stop, observe and become aware of our reaction and communication style. We must be aware of how we are saying what we are, and it is not something that just came to our mind. When you respond, you consciously frame a sentence and you decide what it is that you want to say or do rather than going with the flow. Now, it doesn’t mean that you won’t feel anxious when asked to ride a bike again, you will; what it means is that the next time you are asked to do so, you’ll understand that your anxiety is because of your past trauma and that you can still ride your bike and not fall from it. That was a very simple example, bigger things happen in real life and we need to deal with them, mindfully. What we change when we are responding and not reacting is our awareness of these unpleasant thoughts and emotions, one of the functions of mindfulness. Rather than ignoring them and just going with our pre-programmed reply, we identify the unpleasant or uncomfortable emotion, become aware of it, and mindfully select our emotional response. Doing this makes us less likely to create a worse situation for ourselves or those around us. So, our internal response is still the same, but because we deal with it differently, our external response will be altered.
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In simple words, reaction means something happens, you panic, and you proceed. Responding means something happens, you panic, you pause, you plan and then you proceed.
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 usually 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.
You don’t want to be that person who reacts to all things, all the time, do you? You can’t give people that much power over you, right? They can’t get a reaction anytime they want. Instead, they must know that you are as cool as ice, and no matter what they say or do you don’t react without thinking and can maintain your calm even in challenging situations.
So, next time you face a challenging situation, you know what to do, Right?
You can't change how people treat you or what they say about you. All you can do is change how you react to it ~ Mahatma Gandhi