When you hear the word “react” what comes to mind? When you hear the word “respond” what comes to mind?
Too often these two words are used interchangeably when in fact they really have different meanings. Let’s explore that in greater detail.

This quote by Fred Durst seems apt: “When I look back on my knee-jerk reactions now, I realize I should have just taken a breath.” In a 2016 Psychology Today article written by Matt James, Ph.D., he discusses the uniqueness of these words by saying a reaction is instant. It’s driven by the beliefs, biases and prejudices of the unconscious mind. A reaction is in the moment and doesn’t take into consideration long term effects of what you do or say. A reaction is survival-oriented and in some ways a defense mechanism. It might turn out okay but often a reaction is something you regret later.

Conversely, Dr. James defines a response as something that comes more slowly. It’s based on information from the conscious and unconscious mind. Responses take into consideration the well-being of you and those around you. It weighs the long-term effects and stays in line with your core values.

As I read this article, it struck me how meaningful this distinction is in all forms of our communication. All too often our inclination is to react when in reality there is significant benefit to learning to respond. Given what’s happening in our world, it makes a lot of sense to pay closer attention to what we say and do. Whenever feasible, let’s start making a concerted effort to delay reacting and instead being more thoughtful with our responses.

What’s your response vs. your reaction?