In an article on Psychology Today, Dr. Matt James differentiates between responding and reacting.
- Is instant
- Is riven by beliefs, biases, and prejudices of the unconscious mind
- Is one “without thinking”
- Is based on the moment
- Has no long-term consideration
- Is survival-oriented
- Is a defense mechanism
- Is often regretted later
- Happens more slowly
- Is based on information from the conscious and subconscious minds
- Takes into consideration the well-being of self and others
- Weighs long-term effects
- Stays in line with core values
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.
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 my focus.
Opportunity to Adjust
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.”
“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)