REACTION vs. RESPONSE, are they different? Zig Ziglar- in his distinctive and magnificent southern drawl– asks, “Did you respond well to the medication your doctor prescribed, or did you have a bad reaction?” This is an excerpt from one of his audio programs done many years ago, however, the example he used is still apt and relevant. In fact, what he said describes the two ideas perfectly.
Today we have learned from many scientific evidences that the human brain evolves in stages. The three stage evolution of reptilian brain, to mammalian brain and finally to human brain. These stages correspond to the brainstem, the limbic brain and the cortex. Brainstem is primarily responsible for survival, the limbic brain focuses on rewards and finally, the cortex is all about attachment. These three systems are at work constantly in all of us.
As human beings we may have little control over the circumstances or the situations we are in, so it is understandable that at times we may undergo a spectrum of emotions. When we are in critical situations our brain senses that we are under attack (verbal or physical) and as a result our reptilian brain activates in the flight or fight reaction mode. We can be very grateful for this reaction mode as this exact stimuli of flight and fight kept our ancestors alive, however, we need to recognize that we are no longer living in ancient times, and yet we are using this reaction mode almost daily.
In an excerpt from his article Responding vs. Reacting, J. Loeks writes: The act of responding requires one to look at the circumstance, identify the problem or situation, hear what is happening and reflect. That reflection can be for a moment, five seconds, one hour, two days or longer. The time frame doesn’t matter. What matters is that you stopped and put an effort to think and suspended judgment. It is a conscious act and shows that you are willing to listen or observe. This ‘gap’ between the circumstance and your behavior is what contributes to gaining a sense of control in your life. Once a person can identify that in responding they actually have a choice in the manner, he/she will start to realize that they are able to make better decisions. The key is that pause. If the situation requires an immediate action, then just take a deep breath first. This alone can help one gain a semblance of control and make one choose an alternative statement or action that can make a big difference in an outcome of a situation.
Additionally, in an article that I have recently read, it states that the difference between responding and reacting is about ten seconds. Frankly speaking, at times I personally have found myself in need of more than 10 seconds to calm my mind and take charge of my senses. Have you ever found yourself in such a situation?
Reaction is a basic instinct that human beings are bestowed with, there is no denial about that. Even though we can’t control the outside circumstances or the environment that’s responsible for invoking reactions in us, we do have a truly amazing power- the power to make a conscious choice. And that’s the choice of “Staying in the GAP” and using our brain to respond instead of react.
I’d like to share a powerful story with you that clearly illustrates this concept: Buddha’s disciples had requested him to give some deeper insight that will help them to attain and sustain the path to “Moksha”; or enlightenment. Buddha smiled but said nothing. Soon after, Buddha decided to take his disciples for a walk. As they traveled from one village to another, they happened to find a lake. Upon approaching the lake, Buddha said to one of his disciples, “Subhuti, I am thirsty, can you get me some water from the lake?” Subhuti leapt toward the lake to fetch some water for his master. Upon reaching the lake, just as he was about to collect water, a bullock cart started crossing through the lake leaving the water very muddy and turbid. Subhuti was disappointed as he wouldn’t be able to fulfill his master’s desire, since he couldn’t offer the dirty water to his master.
Subhuti returned to his master empty handed and apologized, Buddha smiled but said nothing. After few minutes, Buddha asked the same disciple to go back to get the water from the lake. Subhuti obediently went to the lake, committed to achieve the task this time. However, he was disappointed to see that even though the water was not as turbid as earlier, it was still muddy and not drinkable. So he came back and informed Buddha about the muddy water. Buddha smiled but said nothing. In fact, Buddha simply continued his meditation. During this time, this disciple took many trips to the lake only to find the water still muddy. Finally he gave up and waited for Buddha. After about half an hour, Buddha opened his eyes and asked the same disciple to go and get the water.
Subhuti went this time and was surprised to see the lake water absolutely clean and clear and now fit for drinking. He collected the water in the pot and brought it to his master. Buddha looked at the water and then looked up at his disciples and said, “See what you did to make the water clean. You let it be!”
You see, the mud had settled down on its own- leaving the water clear. Your mind is also like the lake! When it is disturbed, just let it be! As human beings, we can’t have control over the external circumstances, but we can definitely control how one react to those circumstances. If we can control our emotions by making a conscious choice to calm down by pausing and responding, then it will help you to attain direct enlightenment.
It is my hope that this thought will stay with you when you find yourself in a critical situation. Remember to ‘Stay in the GAP’ as things calm down on their own without much external effort. So next time, when someone cuts you off in traffic, makes a remark about you at the workplace, or asks you to put away the groceries or fold the laundry after you have had a long hard day at work- remind yourself to “STAY IN THE GAP” and respond accordingly, rather than react!
We know that the ‘Staying in the GAP’ approach is extremely helpful in the long run, be it at work or home. It helps to avoid bad things from becoming worse, and to make good things become great- After all, a 60 second inward journey can change your life!
With these words, I would like to “THANK YOU” for joining us in Changing the Global Conversation on Human Performance!