Act, Don’t React

A strategy to make better decisions under pressure.

Like a sniper that is pushed as he’s squeezing the trigger, what was a focused shot is now shanked, missing the mark. This is what a poor reaction can do for you. 

Let’s define reactions as actions that you take when you are already off balance. A problem has come to find you and you need to respond to it; so you react in an attempt to resolve the situation at hand. Reactions carry with them a hint of emotional response and lack the intent and focus that actions do. Reactions involve many dynamic influences. 

The value in making this distinction between actions and reactions is important to discuss the strategy we are going to look at here. 

When I talk about acting rather than reacting I am talking about removing impulse from our decisions and making intentional decisions when faced with a problem we weren’t expecting. These are the tactical situations in which we must take a new course of action based on new information or a conflict that has shown itself. 

We talk a lot about having a good plan, thinking through actions, Integrity, and other topics intended to make sure we are moving forward with the best and most complete plans possible, but we will never account for everything. It is impossible to plan ahead for what is hiding around each corner. Even the best laid plans need to consider that things are going to come up down the road that will need to be addressed. These situations are the reactions we are talking about here.

Why Do We React

Reactions are prompted by a number of things like surprise, pride, fear, ego, reputation, danger, etc. When we feel like there are eyes on us to make a decision, the pressure builds quickly. Maybe we don’t feel we have the time to take another course of action – we can be distracted with other things, have too much on our plate and fail to see where this new problem fits – and that is why we choose to react or push the problem off. There are a host of reasons we react but common amongst them is a feeling of being rushed or having to maintain some sort of image either to oneself or to others. 

Without these considerations, there would be little reason to react, unless of course there was a threat of imminent danger, but that’s a different conversation.

Limitations Of Our Reactions

Before we get to the strategies to overcome reactions, we must first understand the limitations we put on ourselves when we react, rather than act. 

First, we need to understand that by the time we are considering a reaction, we are already too close to the problem to see the larger picture. By the time we are forced to react the problem has come all the way up the sidewalk and is knocking on our front door. We can’t see around the problem nor our different options to address it. We are pressured to resolve this problem where it stands.

Had we seen this problem coming from further away, we could have changed course or put something in place to handle this issue before it got so close that we are now having to react; but in this case, we did not have the opportunity. We are found unprepared and now we are off balance because we are surprised and startled that this problem has come to find us.

Strategy To React Less And Act More

The strategy revolves around creating time and space to think, analyze, and act, rather than try to take actions when off-balance, as is the case when we react. 

When we are faced with that problem that has shown up on our doorstep, we need to make our first action to step back and create space – take a look around, understand what the real situation is, choose the best course of action, and move forward.

There are a few things to consider here:

Understanding what the real situation is:

The urgency that comes along with some of these problems we face is often fabricated either within ourselves or by the other people involved in the situation. We create urgency by feeling the pressure we discussed above; whether it is our pride and ego, or a fear of being wrong or bested, there are tricks our minds play on us that will make us feel more rushed than we actually need to be. If we feel that we don’t have enough time or resources to address an issue, we can also feel an urgency to slap a quick band-aid on the situation and hope that it goes away.

When other people are involved, their inability to look at the whole situation becomes urgency to them and then they, in turn, bring their sense of urgency to you. As a leader, you need to first understand the urgency of the situation for yourself but also be able to help this other person see what the real level of urgency is. You need to help them think through the situation and help them to see why the urgency they are associating with this issue is not how you’re seeing it. This must be done tactfully so that you are not seen as dismissive but instead as a leader who will help them resolve their issue.

By taking a step back from the problem and picking our heads up, we will very often see that the situation is not nearly as urgent as we thought it was. We can begin to recognize the reasons that we were feeling this urgency and begin addressing those feelings before we attack the problem at hand.

Choosing the best course of action:

Once we have created some space for us to work in and understand what factors are at play both within ourselves and within the situation, we need to choose our next move. 

We are already leaps ahead of where we would be if we had allowed ourselves to act while we were off-balance. Now that we have created space and re-centered ourselves, we have regained our balance and are ready to move forward with Strength and Integrity.

The correct path forward is the path that best serves our purpose. In choosing our next action we need to consider not only the issue we are addressing now, but any other issues we are either going to create or resolve by taking one path or another. We want to make sure we are thinking through problems as they arise and choosing the course of action that will prevent the next fire drill from coming up as best we can. 

This is the less obvious efficiency in acting rather than reacting. It’s a harder sell because in order to act, you need to put in the additional time up front to think through different solutions. You need to think out a few moves like a chess match; you want to see how probable the next steps are to play out a certain way and consider these next actions as you choose your course.

Reacting, on the other hand, is quick and “resolves” the situation you face immediately. This feels good and productive at the moment, but it likely sets up future fire drills that you will need to address. That thing you didn’t consider earlier is going to bite you in the ass down the road. 

From observation, it is seen that when a person reacts to the first issue, it is likely that they will react to the next one that comes up, and the one after that. They start a string of reactions and are losing vision with where they are wanting to go. By the time they finally realize they have dug themselves into a trench with their reactions, they pick their head up somewhat unsure of where they will find themselves. Reacting to problems leaves you flying blind – you are like a pinball bouncing around from issue to issue.

This speaks to the importance of strategies and plans and taking action toward those ends. The plan keeps actions focused, sure, but what we are talking about here is keeping our actions consistent rather than reacting and going off-script.

Wrap-Up

Taking action requires attention and intention. It requires us to be in control of ourselves in order to be able to recognize when our responses are reactions rather than actions. We need to hold ourselves back from reacting and taking the time to create the space we need to operate and make decisions about how we are going to act, not react. 

Know that for every reaction you stop, you are increasing opportunities to lead yourself and others down the path you intend rather than blurring everyone’s vision of what the path is.

Act. Don’t React.

Yours in strength,

-Chris

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