Bill Abbate

How often have you heard someone say, “Respond, don’t react”? It is such a common saying you will find more than 115 million results by googling those three words as of this writing.

But what does it mean, and is there an even better way to deal with things? Yes, there is a far superior way to handle most situations and decisions. You can take your decision-making to the next level with the method introduced here.

Read on to learn a better way to deal with the things life throws at us.

Let’s first look at reacting and responding to develop our understanding before moving to this different way.


Most reactions happen so quickly they occur without thought. Do you know what drives us to react? It is hidden from most because they do not realize reactions are of biological origin.

It’s well established in neuroscience that our emotions and practically all reactions originate in the brain’s limbic system, while conscious, rational thinking happens in the cerebrum.

The limbic system operates hundreds of times more quickly than the cerebrum. 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 the ordinary, it is best to allow the rational, thinking portion of the brain to have time to process the reactions created by the limbic system. By slowing down, you can decide deliberately instead of unconsciously or reactively.

Think about becoming 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-fawn mode, and you can react hastily, perhaps speaking sharply or yelling. Alternatively, you may want to run, shut down, or acquiesce.

Many people go through much of their lives in a reactive mode, regularly reacting 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 become more self-aware and begin recognizing those things that hijack your brain’s limbic/emotional center. Without this awareness, you will often react without thought, even when it is better not to.

There may be little you can do in high-stress situations, such as in an accident or extreme pressure. But reacting seldom helps and often hurts.

What about other areas of your life? One of the best pieces of advice ever given to overcome these quick reactions 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 extend beyond being hijacked. 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. Why? Because others or the environment has conditioned us to do so. 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 you to think and make better decisions. Thinking before reacting almost always gives you a better result.

Responding and responsibility go hand in hand. It takes personal responsibility to respond thoughtfully rather than to react. Responding means you took the time to consider and weigh the options and then made a better decision.

To have some control of your life, you must at least reach the level of being able to respond. By reacting, you lose control. By reacting, you allow 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 purposely take the time needed to allow the rational part of your brain to catch up with the limbic system. This will allow you to make a decision that will serve your higher purposes and desires.

Whenever you feel you are about to react, become curious, notice what is happening, think about it, and then act in a way that will deliver a better result. The better the quality of the questions you ask yourself, the better your response will be and the better the outcome.


“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, self-control, and self-leadership. That higher level is creating. As with responding, you give thought to the best options you see in a situation. But in creating, you take it deeper, developing a superior solution by delving into what you really want or need.

Simply responding may not provide you with what you need at the deepest level. Even mature responses can be rooted in things that hurt your ability to create. Simple responding based on what you already know or how life and people have conditioned your thinking limits you.

Take this article, for example. It’s a way to share a part of myself and create a lasting legacy. Instead of a more typical response of spending retirement playing golf and taking it easy, I chose to create something different. Something that would make life more fulfilling. Something that comes from the very core of my being. I don’t want to just grow old and die. I want to create something that helps others.

Creating this and other articles and books is a significant part of my retirement plan. None of it is for monetary gain. I only wish to leave something that will help others in my effort to give back for the many blessings I have received. It takes more than reacting or responding to write these words. As is true for most writers, it takes 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 act and keep making course corrections to stay on the right path, going in the right direction.

Think about it — leadership is always about direction. What you do determines the direction you go and where you wind up.

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

But creating something bigger and more lasting than reacting or responding can take you in an entirely new direction with amazing results.

The choice is yours. You can react or respond with a short-term solution, doing little more than problem-solving. Or you can be deliberate, creating something new that eliminates the problem and gives you something great.

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

Following are two examples of creating instead of reacting or responding:

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, which can be a good response.

What can you create in a situation like this? How about creating a better you? Reframe the situation. Use the experience to understand its trigger and strengthen your ability to pause. Use the situation to build self-awareness and your ability to be more mindful. Become thankful instead of resentful.

Part of creating this new you is thinking about and examining different perspectives. Maybe the other driver is having a bad day and legitimately didn’t see you. Try to put yourself in their shoes by thinking up various scenarios to help you develop more empathy.

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 and aware of your surroundings, so much the better. These things can lead you to create a better, more mature you!

Those adrenaline-spiked reactions dissipate when you pause, breathe, and think. Each time something triggers you, use it as an opportunity to improve your ability to create a new way to behave. While you’re at it, why not use it to create less stress and more joy?

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 — pay attention to what triggers it. When you find what triggers the worry, you can respond with a temporary fix (the problem-solving approach) or create something that eliminates the problem entirely.

Slow down, take a few deep breaths, and ask yourself, “What can I do to create something new, something better for my life and this situation?”

A thoughtful response is to begin saving as much as you can and possibly working longer. While this may help, you can take it further, creating more of what you want. Why not enlist the help of others — a financial planner, for example? You can also learn more about the subject of growing your investments.

Further extending this creative approach to retirement could be digging into more of what you want and must do to get there. You can explore what it takes to accommodate the lifestyle you want, evaluate more cost-effective locations, and consider retirement-friendly part-time jobs.

You may start consulting using your expertise if you’re a business professional. Imagine having a very flexible schedule to accommodate your retired life.

These are only a few ideas that can start you toward creating what you want. What else would you add?

The options become endless when you leave reacting and responding behind and begin creating what you want. All you need is self-control and self-leadership to envision what you want and need. Then you can begin 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 forward 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?

For a simple method of creating anything you want, I suggest you read the brief article Create What You Want in Life.

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

Comments / 3

Published by

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

Richmond, VA

More from Bill Abbate

Comments / 0