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Responding vs Reacting

Have you ever reacted impulsively and afterward thought, "Whoops! Did I do that?" Here are some examples of what we might do impulsively: sending an email or text we shouldn't, posting something foolish on social media, or quitting like Jerry Maguire.

I wish I had Jerry's guts! Doing things out of impulse can have severe consequences for our personal or professional life. In this article, we are going to discuss responding versus reacting. We will delve into how you can increase your self-awareness and self-management to keep from doing something that could negatively impact your personal or professional life.

1. Increasing self-awareness

All day we receive "invitations" to get annoyed, irritated, or lose our nerve. "Invitations" that cause us to react might include a driver who tailgates us, a colleague who always runs late, dealing with a lazy co-worker, or spotty WiFi. In the 2006 world cup, renowned French soccer player Zinedine Zidane head-butted Italian soccer player Marco Matterazi. After the head butt, the referee removed Zidane from the game, and Italy proceeded to defeat France to win the 2006 world cup. Zidane's reaction is a perfect example of how someone might react instead of respond after receiving an "invitation." Zidane's reaction was probably not the best way to handle things for himself or his country.

Everyone's "invitation" list is different. Some people get annoyed when someone doesn't respond to an email, others with technology issues, and the list goes on. I have a few questions.

  • How many of these "invitations" happened three years ago?

  • Almost all of them.

  • How many of these "invitations" happened a year ago?

  • Nearly all of them.

  • How many are happening now?

  • Almost all of them.

  • How many of them are likely to repeat a year from now?

  • Probably all of them.

If "invitations" are going to keep happening, why do we keep letting these things bother us? Chances are these things keep bothering us because we think our self-awareness is higher than it is. In reality, many people are not self-aware about what upsets them. One of the ways we can increase our self-awareness is by writing a list of the "invitations" that get under our skin or cause us to react impulsively. I encourage you to write down at least five "invitations" that would make you react. Make sure to pause right now and write down five "invitations" that bother you.

If you identify these "invitations," you will have a better chance of keeping them from upsetting you. If we continue to react, it reminds me of the famous quote, "fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me." If we keep letting these things get to us, then shame on us for not developing our self-awareness or ability to manage how we respond. Teenagers, friends, and colleagues can be skilled at using these invitations to get under our skin. If we do not do the work to increase our self-awareness then these people will continue to pull our strings like a puppet, continuously getting under our skin.

2. Improving self-management and how we respond

Once you know what "invitations" bother you, you have to figure out an effective response. Here is a formula that will enable you to manage your response to reduce your chances of reacting impulsively.

For the French soccer player, here is how it played out.

1. Event was when the Italian soccer player said something insulting.

2. Response was a head butt.

3. Outcome was the French soccer player was kicked out of the game, and France lost the world cup.

A better approach is after the event happens, we pause! Pausing is essential. Pausing after we receive an invitation is similar to Neo in the movie, the matrix where he dodges the bullet. Time slows down, and Neo can thoughtfully decide which way to bend his body to dodge the bullet.

Same with us, after we receive an invitation, we should pause and thoughtfully choose how to respond based on the outcome we want. In the case of the soccer player, if he paused after the insult, it would have driven a different response. For example, if the outcome is he wanted to win the world cup, then he might have responded by laughing at the Italian soccer player, smiling sarcastically, or pretending as if he didn't hear the comment. The pause would have enabled him to choose the best response at that moment. Without a pause, we are susceptible to reacting impulsively and the consequences that follow.

I call the events that trigger us "invitations" because we can choose to accept or decline. We can choose how we respond. Some people might say the Italian soccer player deserved the headbutt after what he said. If this is your reaction, then you might be saying this because you would have done the same thing. I do not disagree with your perspective, but I'm afraid I have to disagree if the French player reacted out of impulse. If the headbutt was his conscious decision where he weighed the consequences, then I have no problem. However, if he acted out of impulse, he would be paying consequences for something he didn't choose. The key lesson here is learning how to manage impulse in order for it not to get the best of us in our personal or professional life. This is an essential step toward increasing your emotional intelligence.

The more we practice identifying the "invitations" that bother us, and responding instead of reacting, the more control we will gain over our lives. Remember, PAUSE like Neo, consider the outcome you want, and let this drive your response.

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