Respond or React

In an article on Psychology Today, Dr. Matt James differentiates between responding and reacting. Below is a summary of what he says.

Reacting and responding may look the same at times, but they certainly feel very different from one another. In review of my most memorable times of reacting and responding, I definitely find this to be true.

When I think of those times when I’ve responded instead of reacted versus those when I’ve reacted instead of responded, some patterns emerge. Before delving into those patterns, understand that everyone has reacted when they should have responded. To do so is part of what it means to be human.

It’s those times, seasons really, when we seem to live in reactionary mode that are cause for concern. During these seasons, the following are usually true for me and need dealt with in order for me to move back into respond mode.

Busy and Overwhelmed

When I have too much to deal with mentally or physically, my overall quality goes down in pretty much every area of life. Often, this happens because of Decision Fatigue when there’s just too much stress for me to process life with any clarity and focus.

Off Track

Being off track is basically a loss of focus. It means I’ve stalled and am no longer moving forward. It means I need to get back on track before I’ll be able to be consistently healthy and productive again. Essentially, since focus determines reality, this is a time to Reset Your Focus.

Reacting instead of responding has become a sign that something is off in my life. I now use it as an opportunity to take stock and see where I need to adjust or even reset in some way.

Sometimes, it means I need to simplify again. Others, it means I’m letting my feelings instead of the facts dominate my thinking. Whatever the root cause, a time of evaluation — usually accompanied by resting — helps me see what needs adjusted.

Always, this process includes lots of prayer. At the source of this prayer during these assessment times in my life are a few key Scripture that I’d like to end with and to encourage for meditation.

“A man’s mind plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.”
(Proverbs 16:9)

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.” (Psalm 139:23-24)

Truth. Wisdom. Discipline. Discernment. (Proverbs 23:23)

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6 Replies to “Respond or React”

  1. I wish our country would learn to take a deep breath and choose to respond rather than react to what we are exposed to. We all are emotional but a pause allows our minds to get in sync with our hearts. I can recall far too many times I only wish I paused before opening my mouth. Thanks for this reminder.

  2. I shudder when I think back to how I reacted when I should have stepped back to gain time and perspective in order to respond more correctly (and more Christ-like). Thanks for the thoughts today Kari.

  3. I find that as a parent I have reacted with my children instead of respond because of a couple reasons. One is the aforementioned of being overwhelmed and busy. Another one that I have been trying to be more aware of in myself is responding out of fear. Others may perceive it as controlling but in reality I fear failure and so I overly "help" my children not fail either. Obviously that's the wrong approach. I'm constantly working on the power of acceptance by praying that God will allow my heart and mind to see the moment as it is and teach the missing skill instead of react to their failure…or in reality it is my fear of failure in parenting. Responding out of love instead of reacting out of fear. It's a journey…

    1. I completely understand this journey you're going through, my friend. Hard lessons to learn for sure. And yes, we fear failing as parents, and I think this is largely because we let our identity get too wrapped up in our kids. Keep making progress, because you truly are. Small steps.

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