Action versus Reaction

Acting is what makes you happy, reacting is what makes you miserable.

Whenever you act, you perform a conscious choice, you decide you’re going to do that thing. You become responsible. But when you react, you follow somebody else’s choice, you’re responding to an external stimulus. You’re not responsible anymore, you leave the responsibility to the stimulus. When you act, you’re the pupeteeer, when you react, you’re the puppet.

Choice versus Context

Acting is independent of the context, reacting is totally dependent of the context.

You may be in favorable contexts at times. When you’re a kid, most of the time you’re in a continuous favorable context. The problem is that context is artificial, you are protected by your parents. While you’re a kid, in a favorable context, acting or reacting are basically the same: whatever you do the context will remain favorable. Your parents will love and protect you no matter what. But once you get out from their protection, you may hit some very unfriendly contexts. And here you’ll learn the real difference between conscious action and powerless reaction.

If you consciously chose success, you don’t really care about context. You’re going to be successful no matter what. You act, you’re consciously building your own way. You chose to get there no matter what. But if you don’t make this choice, and your life is just a reaction to a chaotic flow of stimulus, then anything in the surroundings will help you fail. It’s you who let the context do that, and you did this by resigning from your own command, by reacting instead of acting.

For instance, being miserable after losing your job it’s a reaction. The context was really hard for you and you lost something. The “normal” reaction is to be sad, worried, discouraged and miserable. On the other hand, being confident, manifesting hope and starting to look for another job (or even starting your own business) it’s a conscious choice. Losing your job it’s just a fact. What you do about this fact is what really matters.

Reward And Frustration

Acting is rewarding, reacting is frustrating.

Every time you act on something, you are rewarded in some way. Not every conscious action will be successful. You may fail at times. Maybe many times. But you still get your reward. When you fail, the reward is in learning. You made a choice, you acted in a specific way and you learned something, even if the action was a complete failure.

If you react, all you get is frustration. You didn’t make a choice, you just responded to a stimulus. Maybe you wanted something else, but instead of choosing an action, you automatically reacted to that stimulus. There is no way you can get a reward if you’re reacting to something. Even if the initial stimulus was positive.

For instance, you blindly fall in love with somebody.That’s a positive stimulus and you reacted to it. After the initial, unconscious chemistry phase, you have a choice: to love and accept no matter what. If you don’t consciously chose to love no matter what, you’ll get hurt. Instead of accepting the other one, you’ll start to control him. In love, jealousy is a reaction, unconditional acceptance is a conscious action.

Choosing versus Enduring


The difference between action and reaction is not always simple. Most of the time we’re acting by habit, and habits are just safe reactions. We know how to ride a bike, we learned how to do it, when we’re on the bike, we’re just reacting to it. It’s a safe reaction. Many of our habits are safe reactions. But some of them are just stupid.

Some of the most dangerous safe reactions are related to money. We tend to react to economic stimulus and news, rather then act upon them. For instance, if there’s news about a bad economic context, we’re starting to protect our investments. That’s a safe reaction. The bad economic context may or may not hurt us directly, we never really know that. But the pre-programmed reaction to cover our savings will emerge without any control from our part.

A much better approach would be to directly act upon our finances. For instance, it’s not uncommon that investment is much more profitable during hard economic conditions. A lot of stuff, including real estate, is getting cheaper. Running to protect our money, by reaction, instead of investing it, by conscious action, will be stupid. Again, the economic context it’s a fact, everybody will feel it, what really matters is our attitude towards it, our choices.

Results versus Excuses

Action creates results, reaction creates excuses.

Every time you consciously chose something, you are producing results. You are the one who started everything, hence the reality obeyed you. Again, even if the action was, by any standard, a failure. Reality responded to your stimulus and created a result. Maybe it wasn’t the result you wanted, but it’s still a result.

If you’re reacting to something or somebody else, you are producing excuses. Your reactions to external stimulus will seldom be aligned with your internal values. If you chose to react to stimulus, you’re already giving up your values and empower the stimulus. You’re not acting, you are giving out control.

Most of the time, your reactions will try to protect yourself from apparently bad things: somebody yelling at you, losing your job, being left by your partner. A typical reaction to all of these will be frustration. And perhaps sadness, lack of hope, misery. So, after the yelling is gone, after the job is gone, after the partner is gone and after your miserable reaction, all you will be left with are excuses. It could have been the other way around, but it isn’t. Sorry.

***

A typical reaction after reading this post will be to think a little bit, to identify possible matches with your own behavioral patterns and then to forget it while gazing at the next funny cat picture on the web. A conscious action will be to bookmark it, to share it with as many friends as you can and to comment on it.

I’m joking, of course. But I’m consciously choosing to joke with you by writing this blog post, instead of gazing at the wall in my office and thinking life sucks. And this action will certainly create some great results.

How about you?

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22 Responses to Action versus Reaction

  • lol
    Thanks for sharing, Dragos ;)

    Living your life versus playing Mr Mirror’s life

    Constantly choosing to act instead of react is the only way to live your very own [real] life, instead of be caught playing [a fictitious] someone else’s life.
    No surprisingly to react is about to mirror your environment, and I’d found a lot of what I’m used to call “Mr Mirror”, someone who use to say that whatever he did was almost a defense, the unique possible answer from whichever happened to him, that he couldn’t have made it different. Oh well, excuses everywhere…
    Later I’ve learned to abandon anything if it start triggering a lot of excuses insanely trying to justify it, that is a bad symptom.

  • Hi Dragos,

    I actually spent a lot of time thinking about this subject, you pretty much touched all the major points.
    What I found is that people always like to believe that they are taking conscious acting decisions when in reality they are only reacting. Is very rare when somebody is making an act that is not determined by something previous, and that is very risky and will cause a lot of reactions from everybody around.

    • Totally with you on this one. There are a lot of reactions we want to perceive as actions and that is a major source of frustration. Not only something previous can trigger the reaction, but usually some unconscious conditioning from the current environment or our own prejudices.

  • Hi Dragos,

    I was just wandering off to look at the latest lolcat, but I thought I’d compare your post to my own life, and comment instead ;)

    Good stuff… I think this is one of the most critical choices that we make in everyday life- over big things, and small things- the choice to be an instigator, or just reactionary. :)

    Karen
    .-= Karen´s last blog ..Wait! I Think You Missed Something. =-.

  • Being proactive reduces the amount of stress in one’s life. Less stress means you have more positive energy than negative energy.

    With more positive energy, you can enjoy this life you have been given. With a more peaceful life, you are empowered to be proactive. Take a risk and move forward. :-)

    great post.
    .-= Shamelle- EnhanceLife´s last blog ..Decision Making On Money, Love, Work & Health: Why Decisions Errors Are Made =-.

    • Exactly, when you act, you don’t have time for regrets, you do stuff. Freeing your life from the stress of regrets is a major breakthrough. There are some types of stress which are actually healthy, but not he regret type :-)

  • Balazs Bohonyi says: September 3, 2009 at 9:41 am

    Great article Dragos !

    Currently I’m reading about proactive and reactive people in “The Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People, by Stephen R. Covey” – a great book.

    http://www.amazon.com/Habits-Highly-Effective-People/dp/0743269519/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1251963511&sr=8-1

  • Excellent article!

    The same lesson can be learned from playing GO [1]: Gote (Reaction) [2] and Sente (Action) [3]. In life we always switch roles, sometimes we are forced to react but most of the time we have the freedom to take action it all depends on how well can we read the “board”.

    [1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Go_(game)
    [2] http://senseis.xmp.net/?Gote
    [3] http://senseis.xmp.net/?Sente

    • Hey, thanks for sharing. Never thought at this analogy but it’s obvious now. It’s the bird-eye of the “board” which can free us from the constraints of an apparent “local”, forced choice.

  • Great article dragos! I like your XX vs YY format which decks out the facts very clearly. I’m really passionate about being proactive. The results we get from acting drives us further – essentially an automatic spiral upwards (provided the right conditions are in place).
    .-= Celes | The Personal Excellence Blog´s last blog ..How To Overcome Procrastination – Part 5 =-.

    • Thanks for your kind words, as always, Celes. This XX vs YY approach is actually helping me clarifying a lot the topic and the goal of the post. It’s like a mental exercise which always boost some creativity juice.

  • Results verses excuses.Well I have to say I am responsible for taking action with positive results the mindset. Excuses I feel there are no excuses unless I cower from achieving the results I want. In most matters there is no tolerance for negotiation.
    I don’t see things in black and white but many colors. :)
    .-= BunnygotBlog´s last blog ..Labor Day Weekend – Summer Sendoff =-.

  • [...] Acting after accepting your situation will reorganize the odds around you. The mere fact of moving in a new direction will bring in some luck. Sometimes enough to put you on the right track again, sometimes much more than you can even imagine. I know for sure that some of my bigger breakthroughs were born out of some of my bigger frustrations. [...]

  • [...] providing a little bit of safety, will put you at the mercy of events. Too often, people who are acting instead of reacting are successful people. And those who are barely responding to stimulus, instead of jumping ahead, [...]

  • Excellent post….thanx for sharing these great ideas…:D

  • So many reactions to one mans(dragos) action… Ironically on the post Empowering Action over reaction… !!!! As Doru wrote or maybe not, there is a very thin line between Action and Reaction… The same act can be taken as action or reaction… For both there must be a stimulus, external or internal… Action/Reaction are like twin brothers, the one difference is that one empowers u , the other overpowers u…But Which is one empower u ?????
    It is very difficult in most cases to differentiate b/w them. My very act of giving a opinion , Action/reaction have only a subtle difference, is a reaction to the This post theme… “Take Action”. Inspired by dis blog, i decide to take action, but then that itself is a reaction to this post…. wat is it im really doing ???
    Nice post dude… Keep it coming…

  • Dragos:
    Great article(s). I am dealing with toxic relationship that my first reaction causes me to fear ending – I may have to end other relationships that are tied to it. But that reality doesn’t exist yet – I can take action. I have bookmarked your site – your thinking is very uplifting. Thank you.

    Ed

  • I have to disagree with you on a couple things in your post Dragos. This guy Rand is actually on the right path to understanding what we really are as humans. You’ve just begun to press the boundaries of the intellect. The only problem is the way you define your terms, or rather the inaccuracy of your definitions. You say that a reaction is a response to a stimuli. I have to present the argument that what you call an “action” is also a response to a stimuli, and it’s really no different from a reaction. There is in fact no way to justify a difference between an external stimuli and any other possible stimuli. The faculty of reason, or our intellects ability to create a decision, is simply a product of conditioning (repetition in other words). Everything for humans is learned from birth. First breathing is learned, then walking, then talking and finally thinking. It’s just that like you said, we’re protected from our parents for so long that we don’t really learn to think autonomously with causality in mind until a late age. But this stopping and thinking about what just happened and then formulating a decision is a response to an external stimuli, just a more complex one. You lose your job so you feel bad and you begin to question what went wrong, then the next time you find yourself in a similar situation the only event you are able to refer to is the last time when you lost your job so you attempt to deduce what resulted in you losing that job so as not to do it again. Still a reaction to a stimulus, only a less acute stimulus and more elaborate. Still our brains processing information. You say we’re not puppets when indeed we really are. We’re all puppets being directed by the strings of our circumstances. Ultimately none of us choose to be born into whatever situation it is we were born into, whatever family or life or environment that may be and that will follow us forever no matter what we think we are choosing. So our “choices” are significantly influenced since birth. As we get older and experience more (are exposed to more “external” stimuli) we improve our ability to react. If I’m not mistaken, what you’re referring to as an “action” can be defined as the ability to withstand a stimulus. I have to argue that the ability to withstand a stimulus, wouldn’t be possible without the stimulus. It is itself a response to stimuli. I definitely agree with the overall theme of your article. That thinking logically without the haze of passing emotions is the reaction most conducive to the human animal thriving in the environment we find ourselves in. I have to argue against the way you define your terms. Is an action really anything besides a response to a an external stimuli?

  • I got up this morning with the thought…Take action not reaction. Then, I began to such the web for support to my thought. Your article was right on time! Yes, I bookmark it…and shared it with my FB Friends. The power is in the choice. Amen!

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