This post was amended after further thought whilst I was having a shower this evening, and comment by a reader on facebook! I felt the post needed more clarification and perhaps a few references to confirm my take on the subject!  So, read on...!


Reaction vs Response: The Choice is Yours!

You'd be forgiven for thinking that a 'reaction' and a 'response' are pretty much the same thing... In fact, they couldn't be more polarised!

A reaction is an unconscious and involuntary “attitude and action” based on external stimulus and are unregulated, whereas “Responses are conscious attitudes and actions” that are based on the same external stimulus but regulated internally (McIndoe 2006, p. 42)

When we react to something, we are allowing our external environment to dictate what happens.  We allow our emotions and thoughts to be governed by outside influences that trigger an unconscious tapping into old patterns and perceptions, thoughts and emotions. Although our reaction occurs within our mind and body, our experience is focused upon an external event.

On the other hand, a response happens when we observe our reaction, then actively CHOOSE what emotions and thoughts we will have and how we will act when confronted by something in our outside environment.  A conscious choice breaks the neural pathways that cause an automatic reaction to our environment, and the process of thinking and feeling then becomes internally focused as we become aware of what is happening within us, rather than outside of us. It is an internal process. 

There is a space between when an outside event occurs and when our reactions kick in.  Mindfulness helps us to find that space, and when we do, to fill it with what WE want to fill it with, not what our unconsious self or brain's automatic patterns decide. Vigilence is required... constant returning to the observer self via the breath or another anchor.  McIndoe (2006, P.41) in her report on mindfulness in psychotherapy said that “Noticing reactions is the first step to transforming them into responses”

Even if we miss the space and react from our unconscious patterns, it's not too late to turn things around.  The second we notice that we are reacting, we can stop (sometimes mid sentence!)... breathe, become conscious and mindful.  It is at this point that we can re-create the silent space and choose again.  Over time the spaces become larger and more obvious and we rarely react to our environment, we have more time and 'head space' to choose a response instead.

So, on a daily basis, practise meditation and mindfulness and try responding rather than reacting.  We can decide what our experience of life is going to be!

Be well

kristy :)


McIndoe, R 2006, "Mindful Psychotherapy for Pain and Trauma: Learning to Stay with Experience", Psychotherapy in Australia, vol. 13, no. 1, pp 38-44, viewed online 1 June, 2010.

Pavlina, S 2007, "Reaction vs Response", viewed online 27 June,

Sitter, D "You Choose to React or Respond", viewed online 27 June,