That is the question.
Many of us think they are one and the same. They are not. They are vastly different. These are two words that seem to have subtle differences, especially if you look them up in the dictionary, but they are very different.
Reacting is how you act as a result of something or someone. We don’t generally think before we react. We just do. Reacting is flying off the handle, making a snippy remark, getting mad because someone won’t do what you want them to do. It’s being impulsive in our words or actions.
Responding is replying. It’s calm in nature. It’s thoughtful. It’s thinking before you speak or act.
It’s All in How You Look at It
When someone does or says something, you have a choice whether you react or respond. It’s all in how you look at it. If someone cuts you off in traffic (a common Dallas occurrence!) you can react by getting mad and doing it back to them or the next unsuspecting person. Or you can notice it and let it go. “They’re a jerk!” or “I guess they’re in a hurry!” Which one feels better?
When someone acts disrespectfully towards you, you can get in the weeds and slug it out with them – reacting. Or you can think to yourself, “Isn’t that interesting they’re acting that way?” – responding. Which one feels better?
“Isn’t that interesting” is one of the most powerful tools in my toolbox. I use it for my clients and myself. It’s a re-frame to change the way you look at things.
You Have the Power Over You
The first step in choosing to react or respond is knowing that no one can make you feel a certain way. We think they can because we’ve been trained to think that way. I bet if you pay attention long enough you may catch yourself saying “so and so made me mad!” Or fill in the blank with any other adjective. It’s ok if you think that; it’s common. Now you know it’s a thinking error and can do your best to avoid it.
No one can make you feel anything. Only you have the power to choose your emotions. Sure, they can say something mean and you can get your dander up and start to feel angry. Then you have a choice. Do I want to say something mean back and get all angry? Or do I want to notice how they’re acting, not judge them, think “Isn’t that interesting” and let it go? You can also respond by putting up a boundary and letting them know that’s disrespectful and you’d appreciate not being spoken to that way.
Reacting includes those lower vibrational states such as frustration, anger, jealousy, irritation. None of those leads to peace of mind.
The way to achieve peace is by responding, not reacting. Noticing. Letting things go.
Remember as kids there was that saying, “I’m rubber, you’re glue. Everything bounces off of me and sticks to you!” Be like rubber and let things bounce off of you. Or Teflon where nothing sticks to you. For the most part it doesn’t matter what people say because that’s their opinion. Opinions are like you know what, everyone has one. Let them.
Unless someone is really causing you damage with their words or actions, there’s usually no reason to engage. Just let it go. When we react, not only do we cause ourselves to get upset, we give our power over to the other person. We allowed them to “get” a reaction from us, to “get” to us. There are some people, especially bullies, who do or say things intentionally, just to get a reaction. They thrive off of it. By not reacting it’s more than not giving them the satisfaction, it’s not giving your power away.
Keep Your Power
Reacting or responding shows your level of consciousness. People with higher consciousness respond. Less aware people react. No judgment, just a statement of fact. “I won’t give them the satisfaction of my response!” is lower consciousness thinking. It’s basically retaliating. Don’t stoop to that level. See your lack of reaction as not giving away your power.
Reacting isn’t all bad. It’s a great indicator. If you find you’re getting easily irritated, snapping back at people, then you know it’s time to ask yourself, “Ok, what’s going on? What can I do differently?” Maybe you need some “me” time to de-stress. Stress causes us to react. To counteract that, take a bath, go for a long walk, get a healing session. Something needs to shift to move you from reacting to responding.
How to Change It
It’s a process and takes time to shift from being a reactive person to a responsive person. As with all change, awareness is the first step. Pay attention to see if you react or respond to things. Then notice what or who you’re reacting to. This will give you big clues and enable you to see a pattern. Oftentimes it’s certain people or situations that upset us, not everything or everyone.
The more you start noticing how much you react, the more you can learn how to shift into responsiveness. If certain people or situations tends to “make you feel upset” then maybe it’s time to stop putting yourself around them, even if temporarily, or learn a new way to deal with them.
When we react, we subconsciously believe others control our behavior. They do not. Nobody can make you do or feel anything. Only you can. That is the ultimate power – controlling your reactions and turning them into responses.
Nobody is responsible for your feelings but you. Doesn’t that feel powerful? It does to me.