Reaction versus response – Many people use the words synonymously but in actual fact, there is a significant difference. Knowing this difference can serve you and your life in ways you never thought possible.

Your job is to learn to respond, not react, but without knowing the difference, how can you?

For most of us, much of our lives is spent in ‘reaction mode’ to the people and events around us. The problem with this is that these reactions might not always be the best course of action, and as a result, they can make us unhappy, make others unhappy and make situations worse.

Why would we want to make things worse? We don’t. But without knowing the difference to reacting and responding, we often do.


The truth is, we often react without thinking (we all do it). It’s an automatic, gut reaction usually based on fear and insecurity, and therefore not the most rational or appropriate way to act.

When reacting, you say something without thinking, thereby letting the unconscious mind run the show. It’s based on the moment and doesn’t take into consideration any long-term effects of what you say or do, or how it may affect the people around you.

Often, it’s a defence mechanism which may feel right at the time, but in most cases, is something you will later regret. And the more ‘reacting’ we do, the less empowered we become.

And we want to be empowered, right?


Responding, on the other hand, comes more slowly…

It’s based on the information from both the conscious and unconscious mind. It’s taking the situation in, stepping back and looking at it, thinking about it and then deciding on the best course of action based on your beliefs and values such as reason, compassion and cooperation.

Responding is more ‘ecological’, meaning that it takes into consideration the well-being of not only yourself, but of those around you too. It weighs up the long-term effects and is likely to be more in line with your core beliefs and values.

In some cases, a reaction and a response may even look alike. But to you, they feel different, and a response will almost always feel better.

How did you learn to start responding?

The main thing I myself attribute to learning how to respond rather than react is to practice mindfulness.

Mindfulness seems to be talked about a lot and I know some of us are tired of hearing about it! But what does it actually mean to be ‘mindful’?

It means simply stepping back and watching myself when something happens, something which might normally upset me or trigger some kind of emotional reaction.

I pay close attention to how my mind reacts, then pause (the act of purposely not acting). I don’t act immediately, as this will largely be a reaction. The pause, and deep breathing, allows me to watch the urge to act irrationally arise, then let it fade away.

Sometimes, this only takes me few seconds. Other times, I may need to remove myself completely and politely from the situation and let myself cool down for a while, before I respond.

7 Steps to start responding

  1. Pay close attention to how your mind reacts

  2. Pause

  3. Breathe

  4. Let go

  5. Politely remove yourself and cool down (if you feel you need to)

  6. Watch the reaction fade away

  7. Give yourself the opportunity to respond

Your job is to learn to respond, not react. Knowing this difference really can serve you and your life in ways you never thought possible.

So, now that you know the difference, are you ready to stop reacting and start responding?

Use the 7 steps as a guide if you need help!