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Are You Reacting or Responding to Life?

Updated: Dec 6, 2023

You may have heard or uttered the words reaction and response interchangeably, however, these two words represent two very different approaches of engaging with life events and with life itself.

If you are interested in the origins of words, you will quickly find that reaction is an action exerted in the opposite direction of another force, while response is an answer or reply to that same force. Let’s look at a couple of examples.


Following a confrontation in the streets, someone pushes me…

Reaction - ... I immediately attack back with equal or more force.

Response - … I deflect the push to protect myself, stay calm and proceed to diffuse the situation.


My partner is trying to have a serious conversation with me, and...

Reaction - ... I react in a banter like manner, with or without a coherent answer.

Response - ... I respond with presence, attention and a considered response.


A loved one approaches me with some feedback about something I did that angered him or her, and...

Reaction - ... I, feeling unjustly accused, react with even more anger.

Response - … I, feeling empathetic, listen carefully and respond with a clear acknowledgment.


Out of the blue, I remember a traumatic memory from the past…

Reaction - ... I react with anger and address it to the first person or thing that crosses my path.

Response - … I respond by taking a step back, acknowledging that it was a painful experience and remind myself that now I am safe.

What can we learn from all these examples and the many more you have experienced yourself?


However brief, the first big difference between a reaction and a response is time. The first is usually automatic and immediate, the second is usually delayed and considered (however quickly).


Because of the automatic nature of reactions, we usually react from intense emotions, instead of responding from a mindful, considered state of being, where we can acknowledge the emotions and express them healthily.


The immediate and habitual nature of reactions mostly makes the focused on short term outcomes. Responses, however, would typically consider the longer-term consequences and provide a more skilful outcome.

There are many ways to develop a calmer, more considerate and skilful engagement with life’s events. However, all of them would need to contribute to one or more of the following steps:

  • Recognising the triggers

  • Taking a pause

  • Considering options

  • Choosing an appropriate response

The processes of change, transition and outcome are complex and along the way you can expect relapses and mistakes, it is normal. The important thing is that you keep practicing in alignment with your intention to reach the desired outcome.

Seek support from loved ones, seek forgiveness when necessary, celebrate your successes and keep practicing.


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