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The Difference Between Reacting and Responding

There’s a difference between impulse and decision. When we react to a situation, we are acting impulsively. Reaction is, in essence, an emotional impulse triggered by outside stimuli. However, Austrian neurologist and psychologist Viktor Frankl theorized that “Between stimulus and response there is a space.  In that space is our power to choose our response.  In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

Reacting vs. Responding: The Difference

Frankl implies that we often react without thinking. What this means is that we don’t choose our behaviors, we just act them out. However, we don’t need to just accept these reflexive behaviors. So what can we do? Frankl notes that there is, in fact, a “space” which exists before we react. By making use of this space, we can learn to grow and change. The key is to not only recognize but increase our use of this fundamental moment. With this awareness, we can free ourselves from pressures both internal and external, thereby finding true inner happiness.

Many of us encounter situations which seem to provoke particular reactions. Perhaps we’re faced with a person or circumstance which seems to purposefully make us upset, or perhaps we find ourselves responding negatively to a certain place or experience. Instead of simply reacting based on impulse, such as lashing out or falling into a negative thought spiral, we can instead choose to respond. The difference is by responding we are taking control of this situation that previously held control over us. We do this by finding our “space.” This space varies from person to person and can be derived by searching for meaning, or by meditation, prayer, or therapy.

So how can we find our space? Below are some helpful tips that can be incorporated into any therapeutic approach to taking control of one’s thoughts and emotions:

5 Useful Tips to Control Thoughts and Emotions

1. Be the Person You Want to Be

Many if not all of us have an image of an ideal self. The ideal self is the person that we would most like to be. It is our best image of who we are based on our goals, dreams, and aspirations. Thus, a good technique for learning to respond rather than just react is to think of the person we’d most like to be – the best version of ourselves. This is especially important in areas in which we might struggle. For example, if we find that we’re quick to anger when things become challenging, we might instead want to be more patient. Because of this, our ideal self might be a patient person. Taking the time to develop a clear vision of this goal can lead to better chances of achieving it.

2. Understanding Where Reactions Come From

All reactions come with reasons. After all, every feeling and thought has an origin point. Understanding this can make it easier to understand where our reactions are coming from. In this way, we can also better address our reactions by treating the source rather than simply dealing with the outcome. An example of an origin to a reaction may be if we had a parent or authority figure who was overly critical, and then developed a self-deprecating or anxious impulse whenever we are faced with a task we find difficult. When we look at the origin of this reaction, we realize that the real problem isn’t the reaction itself but addressing the previously overlooked situation from which it likely developed.

3. Observe Outcomes

On another note, while it is important to examine the origins of reactions, it is also important to be mindful, at least in part, of the outcomes. Each reaction will produce a result. While we shouldn’t dwell solely on the outcomes (origins are important, too, as we’ve previously examined), we should be aware of how our reactions will impact not only ourselves but those around us. By becoming more aware of the negative consequences of reflexive impulse, we will be more motivated to change to a more desired response. In other words, if we notice how our reactions are impairing us, we might be more likely to think before we act.

4. Think of a Better Response

Visualization often can help us achieve goals. By thinking of better ways that we can respond, we can increase our chances of becoming our ideal selves. It also increases the likelihood that we will change how we respond to difficult situations in such a way that it benefits rather than hinders us. For example, rather than reacting by yelling or getting frustrated we respond by calmly working through what is causing us stress.

5. Adopt a More Compassionate Approach

It’s no secret that personal change takes time and effort. Because of this, it’s important to support ourselves throughout this process. Being critical will only undermine our efforts to improve ourselves. Instead, we should practice understanding ourselves, our intentions, and being patient with ourselves. We can better achieve our goals with compassion and support, which ultimately will have to come from within in addition to being derived from our external environments.

The entire family will benefit from therapy and counseling.

Call 800-378-9354 to schedule an appointment with a Boca Raton family therapist.
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