How do we respond thoughtfully vs. react unintentionally?

core values emotion regulation intentional living Oct 18, 2021

Written by Julia Amato, Life + Leadership Coach


It’s the end of your work day, and you’re racing to pick up your kid(s). When you finally get home, it’s a mad dash to make dinner. While you’re chopping veggies, all you hear is “mom, mom, mom.”

Someone else needing you and competing for your attention.

You snap, and instead of turning toward your child who hasn’t seen you all day, you say “what could possibly be so important right now!?” 

For so many of us, this is our reality. We work and work to provide for those we love, but when it comes time to giving them our love and attention, our tank is empty.

We don’t have the capacity to respond thoughtfully to them, and instead we react swiftly, often out of alignment with how we’d like to, or out of alignment with our values. 

So, how do we respond thoughtfully instead of reacting swiftly when life is such a juggling act?

Try this five-step process: 

  1. Pause and Breathe: it can be so very hard to do in the moment, but when we take even just one beat to breathe, we immediately engage our prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that helps us with reason and impulse-control.

  2. Recognize Your Emotions: self-awareness is key to so many things in life, including learning how to thoughtfully respond instead of swiftly react. When we take another beat to recognize our emotions, we can let that emotion come and go. When we do that, we are more likely to understand the root of our emotions and respond calmly, or in a way that aligns with who we are and how we truly want to respond.

  3. Recognize Emotions in Others: empathy will only help inform your response. In the example above, if your kid is persistently trying to get your attention, after you’ve recognized your own feelings, try to recognize how they’re feeling because they don’t have it...and haven’t had it all day.

  4. Think of the End Goal: again using the example above, if your end goal is to provide for your children, will pushing them away so you can have dinner ready “on time” give them what they need? Or, are you pushing them away because it’s your immediate goal to get dinner ready as fast as you can? If we can keep in mind the end goal of simply providing for them, we’re more likely to formulate a response centered around achieving that goal.  

  5. Practice, Practice, Practice: this entire process might take you an extra 30 seconds to respond how you wish to respond at first, but by practicing each step during any social interaction, they become a more immediate or default way of being.

Learning how to respond thoughtfully instead of reacting swiftly takes time, practice and ultimately guidance from within. You first need to know how you truly want to show up for yourself and others before you can step into that being. And you also need to know the triggers or roadblocks getting in your way of showing up how you envision. 

If you want guidance on discovering how you want to show up in the world and what’s getting in your way of doing so, I encourage you to learn more about the Core Values Academy. This self-paced online course helps you name and put action behind your top five core values and assess what’s getting in your way of living them.

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