As a child when my brother took away my toys – I got angry, I fought with him and I cried.
Then as a teenager, when my brother would take away my bike without my permission, I would get angry, fight with him and cry.
As a wife when my husband would impose his seemingly unreasonable ideologies on me I would get angry, fight back and cry.
And today when my kids do not behave I get angry, I scold them and I cry.
Reactions then, reactions now – full of emotion, passion and external trigger controlled.
I grew from a child to bearing a child, but nothing really changed in the way I reacted to uncomfortable situations. I didn’t really grow up in that respect, did I?
But the comforting truth (for me) was that, I wasn’t alone in this stagnancy, most of us don’t.
Because all our lives we are taught a lot a of skills to discover the world, but no one ever teaches us the discovery of self and the basic life skills for the self. Those skills that actually govern our peace, our relationships and even our success in life.
I would have never thought about this myself, until someone told me “Respond don’t React”, it hit. It made me want to understand the difference between the two terms, so that I could evaluate where I stand and get better if I am merely reacting or write off the comment as irrelevant if I am already on the respond track.
Respond Vs. React
A reaction is immediate, it is driven by the beliefs, biases and prejudices of the unconscious mind. It is the unconscious mind running the show. A reaction is more like a defense mechanism and is survival oriented. It might turn out ok but a reaction is generally something you may regret later.
Response on the other hand comes slowly. It’s based on information from both the conscious mind and unconscious mind. A response will take into consideration the well-being of not only you but those around you. It weighs the long term effects and stays in line with your core values.
When you respond you first listen, breathe, step back, think objectively and then act.
Let us see the difference with an example – When my kid chooses to ignore my call and conveniently carries on playing, I keep calling him for a few more times and finally have an anger blast. This is reaction.
The reaction came because my unconscious mind believes that I am a parent and if my child is ignoring my instructions it is disrespectful, somewhere it points to my failure of not being able to instill the right values in my child. It also brings forth a fear that what will others say when they see this behavior. And a comparison with the other kids who listen to their parents also plays a role. All these beliefs biases and fears that are embedded deep within my unconscious belief system are the ones triggering the reaction.
Alternatively, replaying the same situation but with a more aware mindset this time, “when my kid chooses to ignore my call and conveniently carries on playing, I take a deep breath, I am aware that generally this is a trigger for me to get angry, so I consciously do not let my anger take over. But instead I thoughtfully change my strategy. I go near him hug him and bring his attention to me as the first step and then say what I need to say. This is responding.
I could graduate from reacting to responding because I ignored my unconscious beliefs and brought in a conscious understanding that my purpose here is to get myself heard and convey my message to my kid who is greatly engrossed in the game and is reluctant to respond to any stimulus outside, that will take away his attention from this greatly enjoyable play. I also realized that just calling him was not working, so it was time to change strategy, however ensuring a WIN-WIN such that the kid was not embarrassed with a scolding and that I could get his attention too.
I chose embrace as the technique since that is the best way (works well with my kid) to distract his attention. And once I had his attention I could easily put my message through to him.
Essentially at this point I pushed away my unconscious belief and brought forward my conscious knowledge.
While this is a good first step, the aim truly is to align or realign the unconscious beliefs to our conscious knowledge. And when you achieve this, you will realize that the unconscious can be an awesome partner to the conscious mind. Because it is the unconscious that gives the drive, energy and passion to what we want to achieve.
This change from knee jerk reactions to thought out actions is not a flip of a switch but a constant conscious decision you make each time you face a trigger until your conscious beliefs and your unconscious beliefs are aligned for good.