Opinion - The Best Decisions

Bill Abbate

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You have heard it said many times, don't react when you make a decision. While it is true that you will be better off responding rather than reacting, is this the best way to make decisions? No, there is a better way! To take your decision-making to the next level, get ready to learn a simple method that can significantly improve your decision-making abilities.

To develop our understanding of this different method of making decisions, let's first look at what reacting and responding mean. We will then move to a better way to take charge of your decisions and therefore take charge of your life.


Most reactions in life happen without thought. We react because we do not see or understand what is driving us beneath the surface. The reason for this is most reactions are biologically driven. It's well established in neuroscience that our emotions and many of our reactions originate in the limbic portion of the brain, while rational thinking happens in the cerebral cortex.

The limbic system operates hundreds of times more quickly than the cerebral cortex. This speedy reaction is vital in life-threatening situations when you have no time to think and must react quickly. However, when it comes to ordinary tasks, it is best to allow the rational, thinking portion of the brain to have time to process the feelings and emotions of the limbic system. This will enable you to make a decision more deliberately.

Think about a time when you became angry, such as when someone cut you off in traffic, nearly causing an accident. Like many of us, you probably had an outburst of anger, which might have included a few choice words. That was a reaction!

The same thing can happen whenever someone says something that triggers you. Your limbic system goes into fight-flight-freeze mode, and you may react hastily, perhaps speaking sharply or yelling. Alternatively, you might want to run or shut down.

Many people go through much of their lives in a reactive mode, reacting to things without thinking. What quality of results do you think they reap?

How can you move to a more thoughtful response rather than reacting? First, you must recognize those things that hijack your brain's limbic or emotional center. Without this awareness, you will often react without thought, even when it would be better not to.

In high-stress situations, such as in an accident or if you're under extreme pressure, you can react quickly but not necessarily appropriately.

Not everything is an emergency though, is it? What about other areas of your life? One of the best pieces of advice ever given to overcome a quick reaction is from a founding father of our country:

"When angry count to ten before you speak. If very angry, count to one hundred." Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)

Unfortunately, reacting can also extend beyond those times when hijacking occurs. Give some thought to how you may be allowing circumstances or the environment around you to dictate what you do. Are you in a reactive state even though you may not be under pressure? Most of us react far more than we realize in life. Why? Because others have conditioned us.

What can you do about such routine decisions? Try pausing, giving some thought to what you are about to do, and respond thoughtfully instead of simply reacting.

"When you REACT you are giving away your power. When you RESPOND you are staying in control of yourself." Bob Proctor (1934-2022)


"To respond is positive, to react is negative." Zig Ziglar (1926-2012)

Responding requires that you think and make a better decision than is possible in a purely reactive mode. Think before you react, and get a better result.

Responding in a thoughtful way, rather than reacting, is part of being more responsible. Responding means you took the time to consider and weigh the options and then chose the best.

To become the leader in your life, you must at least reach the level of being able to respond. Reacting is not leading yourself. Reacting allows someone or something else (circumstances) to control you and your destiny.

To respond is to take the leadership reins and responsibility for yourself and your principles. To respond is to take the time needed to allow the rational part of your brain to catch up with the limbic system to make a decision that will serve your higher desires.

The better the quality of the questions you ask yourself, the better your response will be, and the better the outcome. Become curious, see what is happening, think about it, and then act in a way that will deliver a better result.

"The easiest thing is to react. The second easiest thing is to respond. But the hardest thing is to initiate." Seth Godin (1960-present)


While responding is better than reacting, there is an even higher level of decision-making and self-leadership—that of creating. As with responding, you give thought to the best options you see in a situation. But in creating, you take it to a deeper level, delving into what you really want or need.

Simply responding may not provide you with what you may need at the deepest level. Even mature responses can be rooted in many things that can stifle your ability to create. If you simply respond based on what you already know or how life and people have conditioned your thinking, it can be hard to be creative.

Rather than saying, "I want to begin saving money for retirement, so I'm going to invest heavily in my retirement plan," ask yourself better questions. Is my retirement plan the best possible way to increase my long-term savings? If you apply your creativity to a situation, you might develop something entirely different, something beyond the obvious.

Take this article, for example. It's a way for me to share a part of myself, impart wisdom, and create a lasting legacy. Creating this and other articles and books are part of my retirement plan. I am not doing it for monetary gain and only wish to leave a mark on the world. But it took more than reacting or responding to write these words. It took self-leadership and the ability to create!

This higher level of leadership and creativity is about vision and direction. First, you must see what you want to create as clearly as possible. Then you act and keep making course corrections to stay on the right path, going in the right direction.

In fact, leadership is always about direction. What you do determines the direction you go and where you wind up.

Allowing yourself to be primarily in a reactive mode will take you in one direction and give you one set of results. Being more thoughtful and responsive will take you in another direction.

But creating something more, larger, and more permanent than reacting or responding will take you in an entirely new direction with even better results.

The choice is yours. You can react or respond with a short-term solution. Or you can be more deliberate, creating what you want, eliminating the need to either react or respond.

"The future is not some place we are going to, but one we are creating." John Schaar (1928-2011)


Following are two examples of reacting, responding, and creating:

Example 1

· Someone cuts you off in traffic, and rather than allow it to trigger you, you pause, take control of your breathing, calm yourself, and become thankful that there was no accident.

What can you create in a situation like this? You can create a better you! Use the experience to strengthen your ability to pause and not be triggered, become thankful instead of resentful, and reframe the situation. Maybe the other driver is having a bad day and didn't see you.

If the near-accident makes you more determined to stay alert in traffic, you're going in a better direction. If it helps you become more self-aware, so much the better. These things can lead you to create a better, more mature you!

Those adrenaline-spiked reactions dissipate when you pause and think carefully. Each time something triggers you, use it as an opportunity to improve your ability to create a new way to behave. Also, use it to create less stress and more joy in your life.

Example 2

· You feel pressured because you are getting older and haven't saved enough for retirement. Instead of just reacting with worry—which has known ill effects on your health—you decide to notice the trigger, slow down, and think about what to do.

Your thoughtful response is to try to save as much as you can and keep on working. To take this to the next level of creating what you want, perhaps you can enlist the help of others—a financial planner, for example. You can also learn more about the subject of growing your investments.

A truly creative approach to retirement might include learning more about what it will take to live the lifestyle you want to live, evaluating cost-effective locations to live in once you retire, or thinking about retirement-friendly part-time jobs.

If you're a business professional, maybe you'll branch out and start consulting, using your expertise. Imagine having a more flexible schedule to accommodate your retired life.

When you leave reacting and responding behind on the more important decisions in life and begin creating what you want, the options become endless. All you need is some self-control and self-leadership to envision what you want and need, and you can start creating something new, something better, something more permanent! The only thing that will limit your creativity is you.

Final thoughts

Creating trumps reacting or responding every time. Move from reacting to responding to creating by slowing down/pausing, thinking, developing a vision of what you truly want, and moving toward it step by step.

Take charge of your life and your future. You only get one chance at it, so why not make it the best possible?

"The future is not something we enter. The future is something we create." Leonard Sweet (1961-present)

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Semi-Retired-Leadership/Executive Coach -Personal & Career Growth Expert -Editor and Leadership Writer at Illumination -Author

Richmond, VA

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