React or respond?

Wanna know a secret? I’ve learned to keep my reactions to myself most of the time.

I don’t think I’d make a great poker player, because I’m sure I have a tell or two, and it’s probably not all that hard to read my face if you’re paying attention.

But I usually keep the words to myself.

I hold back on the reaction while I consider and craft my response.

What’s the difference? Well, a reaction is instantaneous, and it comes from the places in our brain where we aren’t really managing the show: instinct, bias, defenses, unconscious beliefs and short term priorities…in short, our primitive brain.

So I like to take a beat and let the knee-jerk reaction pass, take a breath or two, and then let my conscious mind over. It takes the time to factor in a few additional things, such as reading the room, enlightened self-interest, long term values, intentional and unintended consequences, etc.  Then I can let the response out.

That sounds like it takes a lot of time, but it really only takes about the same amount of time as a breath or two. It’s usually a pretty quick calculation or consideration. And it’s worth it.

Of course, it doesn’t work when something is funny. It’s really really hard to hold back a laugh. We’ve all had that drink coming out of our nose experience, right?

It’s a bit of work, though, this response vs. react thing, which is why it is so wonderful – no, necessary – to have people in your life where you can just relax and let your guard down.

Like so many things, the wisdom is in knowing the difference and choosing the right course of action. Ah, choosing. The magical superpower.

In the meantime, remember these things: You are loved. We are all loved. Let’s all be kind. And in all things – progress, not perfection!


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