Updated: Dec 30, 2022
Hello beautiful humans!
In this article we are going to explore why knowing the difference between action and reaction is important and how you can start utilizing each effectively.
Like most of the articles I have posted, they can benefit you outside of the workplace as well, so don't be shy about applying what you learn here to your everyday life as well.
An action is a voluntary and conscious choice that you make. It means that you have made an objective decision to do something. A reaction is a response given based on a situation or circumstance that is a result of someone else's action. It is a response that is made impulsively and with little to no consideration of consequences or the effect or affect of others.
Much of our reaction, especially to negative stimuli, is a direct response of our limbic system at work. Handed down through our genes from our ancient ancestors, the limbic system activates our fight, flight, freeze and fawn responses when we are faced with intense situations of stress, fear, anger, etc. Our brain uses these responses to protect us. It's our survival mechanism at work.
A science lesson
To continue, you will need to understand that our thoughts produce a measurable vibration. This can be seen by the use of a electroencephalogram (EEG) that measures the electrical impulses within the brain. On a molecular level, atoms that are electrically charged are constantly vibrating. All vibrations have a frequency at which they vibrate. It is believed that more positive thought produces a high frequency while negative thought, such as sadness, anger, and so on, produce a low frequency vibration. For more of the science behind this you can check out the citations below.
Going forward, I will be referring to this example:
Let's say you have a direct report who has made another error in their work
that goes against the procedures you have in place. This particular employee
seems to take matters into their own hands instead of following the guidelines
set for them. You have called them into your office to again address the issue
and make sure that it does not continue to happen.
The mistake that we often make is that we try to anticipate what someone else's reaction is going to be. (Referring to the example) A leader will often already be on guard anticipating that the report may not take the news well. If our negative thoughts relating to how 'we think' they are going to react really are producing a low frequency vibration then we are giving off a signal to the limbic system of that individual. In turn, they are reacting in the fight, flight, freeze or fawn mode. More often than not, it induces a negative response reflecting the low frequency vibration back to us and ending in a less than desirable outcome.
The action taken in the example above caused an automated response, or a reaction, that was not ideal. It can cause dissension, anger or other ill feelings and does not promote an atmosphere where the charge is valued or appreciated. It does not encourage a team spirit and can lead to higher turn over.
I know this all sounds a little extreme, but is it really? Considering the work ethics and values of the generations entering the work force today, I believe that there is merit in this understanding.
So, same situation as the example above. This time, instead of anticipating a negative response, let's modify the action of the leader. Instead of entering the conversation with the intention of a reprimand, what if the leader's action was to ask what reasons the report has for not following procedures? Is there a better alternative that we haven't looked? Does the report have some suggestions that might better serve the employees and the company to work towards the same goal?
You see where I'm going with this, right? Simply by tweaking our action, we have hopefully modified the negativity of the response. We are giving value to the report and wanting to listen to any ideas they may have to offer. Instead of sending out that negative frequency vibration, we are sending out a positive one boosting the likelihood of a positive reaction. All we had to do was make a deliberate change to the delivery of our action.
We've talked about controlling our actions, but what about our reactions? What kind of reaction do you, as a leader, exhibit when approached with negative actions of a report?
Just like with the report in the example, leaders are human and will have a similar reaction. dissension, anger and the feeling that you, as a leader, are not respected. You feel undervalued and unappreciated and maybe even out of control of your team.
Our limbic system has served as well through the centuries, but it isn't always right. Lucky for us that our brain is a remarkable piece of hardware and the software it contains (I.e. our fight, flight, freeze and fawn responses) can be trained. Case in point:
Lily (not her actual name) was raised in an abusive household. Loud noises,
anger and yelling triggered her limbic system to hide to protect herself. When
Lily grew up she enrolled in a local self defense course. Several years later, she
found herself in an abusive relationship, not unlike her childhood, with one
major difference. Lily was able to defend herself and she did so. When I asked
her how she stayed calm enough to know what to do, she simply replied, "I
didn't! My body just took over automatically."
If Lily was able to change the way her limbic system responded to physical violence then it stands to reason that we should be able to train our brains to stop before reacting to a situation. When we take a moment to consider the contributing factors objectively, our reaction then becomes an action, which we learned at the beginning of the article, is an intentional and deliberate choice that we make and no longer an involuntary response to someone else's actions.
Practice pausing! Even in everyday situations where you would normally act impulsively. Take a moment to think about how you can change your automatic reaction into a purposeful action.
Morals of the Story:
An action is an intentional choice while a reaction is a response based on someone else's choice.
Positive thoughts produce high frequency vibrations and negative thoughts produce low frequency vibrations.
Our mistake is trying to plan how we will react to someone else's reaction to our action.
Be positive and deliberate with our actions to avoid negative reactions.
Teach our brains to pause before reacting giving us time to change our involuntary responses into deliberate choices.
Molecular Vibrations - https://www.physics.uci.edu/~wilsonho/N062598.htm
Vibrational Frequency - https://www.authenticityassociates.com/the-quantum-mechanics-of-changing-thoughts/