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What you Engage With is What you Empower; Responding Versus Reacting

When I came across the statement "what you engage with is what you empower" in Brianna Weist's book "The Pivot Year," it was a revelation. I began to notice this concept playing out in both my personal and professional life. It helped me recognize the immense value of stepping back in the peak of the moment, allowing myself to recognize and name my feelings, own them, and then thoughtfully decide how to respond in a manner that would drive my true objective. This is what it means to respond rather than react, and has proven to be far more effective and productive than acting on an impulse.

The difference between a reaction and a response lies primarily in their nature and execution. A reaction is typically immediate, instinctive, and driven by emotions, often occurring with little deliberate thought or consideration. It reflects a spontaneous or reflexive action influenced by one's feelings at the moment. In contrast, a response is more thoughtful, reasoned, and deliberate, often resulting from a conscious decision-making process. It usually involves weighing the implications and aligning the action with one's principles and long-term goals. While reactions are quick and often impulsive, responses are controlled and measured, indicating a higher level of self-awareness and emotional intelligence.

There is an understanding that our focus and energy shape our experiences and interactions. This is particularly critical when we consider how we react to stimuli. Often, our immediate reactions, especially under stress or emotional strain, can be negative or unhelpful. These are usually impulsive reactions, not deeply considered ones, and they can lead us astray from our true intentions and values. However, by consciously deciding to pause and reflect before responding, we move from being reactive to being proactive. This pause is a powerful tool. It gives us the space to process the situation, weigh the consequences of our responses, and ensure that our actions are in line with our larger goals and principles. It's in these moments of reflection that we find the opportunity to craft responses that are positive, constructive, and aligned with what we truly seek to achieve.

Responding effectively rather than reacting impulsively is a key skill in managing interactions and situations both personally and professionally. Here are some steps to help cultivate a more thoughtful and effective response:

  1. Pause and Breathe: Before you do anything, take a moment to pause and take a few deep breaths. There is a literal health benefit from this as it activates the body's relaxation response through the parasympathetic nervous system and actually reduces cortisol, the stress hormone.

  2. Acknowledge Your Feelings: Recognize and label your emotions (Yes, label them! Its actually important so you are sure to recognize it for what it is the next time you feel it - this is an important aspect of self-awareness and understanding your triggers and responses to them). Are you angry, frustrated, hurt? Acknowledging your feelings to yourself helps in managing them and prevents them from controlling your response.

  3. Assess the Situation Objectively: Try to step back and view the situation from an outside perspective. Ask yourself what's actually happening, separating facts from your emotional interpretation.

  4. Consider the Consequences: Think about what the potential outcomes would be based on how you responded. How will it affect you and others involved? Will it resolve the situation or escalate it? What are the short-term implications, long-term implications?

  5. Choose a Constructive Response: Based on your assessment, choose a response that is constructive and aligns with your values and goals. This might involve addressing the issue directly, seeking compromise, or sometimes choosing not to engage at all (this can be one of the hardest things - remember, confidence, experience, and skill are demonstrated through actions not words... If you have to say it, it's because your actions must not be - it's OK to not engage sometimes!).

  6. Communicate Clearly and Calmly: When you do need to respond, do so clearly and calmly. Use “I” statements to express how you feel without blaming or accusing others. For instance, "I feel upset when..." instead of "You make me upset because..." You must always consider, you MAY have mis-understood.

  7. Reflect and Learn: After the situation has passed, reflect on it. Consider what you learned from the experience and how you might handle similar situations in the future. This reflection can help you develop even greater response effectiveness over time.

Having thoughtful engagement with our internal self is empowering. It steers us away from the pitfalls of automatic reactions that can worsen conflicts or lead to greater misunderstandings. Instead, it endows us with the capacity to handle situations with understanding, empathy, and effectiveness. This approach isn't just about reining in our immediate reactions; it's about actively directing our energy towards responses that are beneficial and congruent with our personal and professional aspirations. In essence, taking that moment to pause and reflect before engaging allows us to create interactions that are more positive, meaningful, and effective in our lives.

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