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Ep. 77 – Respond Don’t React

When you first hear the words react and respond they seem to have similar meanings. Yet, through our coaching, we have come to understand that there is a difference in their meanings, particularly when communicating during challenging situations such as divorce. In this episode Doreen and Jeff explain the difference between the two words and how to effectively manage your thoughts, during a conversation to create the best results possible.


Doreen: Hey, my beautiful friends, and how are you? So today we’re gonna talk about the difference of reacting to something versus responding to something and how important it is to know the difference and to really take that time out and not react, but think about responding. So if you are ready, Let’s get started.

Are you ready to create a life that’s better than ever before? We are Doreen Yaffa and Jeff Wilson, and we are here to give you the strategies you need to create the life after divorce that you deserve and desire. As partners both in marriage and coaching, we use our expertise as well as our own personal experiences to help you make the next chapter of your life the best chapter.

Hey Jeff. How are you?

Jeff: Good afternoon and good morning, and good evening. How are you? Doreen?

Doreen: Depending on when they’re listening, right?

Jeff: That’s right.

Doreen: What’s going on? Well, we’ve had some exciting news. I guess our middle daughter, Megan, is going to Argentina to study abroad for her last semester in college.

So that’s kind of cool.

Jeff: That’s very cool. I mean, that is amazing opportunity.

Doreen: Yeah. One of her majors, she has two majors, pre-med and Spanish. So it’s kind of cool that she’s gonna be speaking fluent Spanish soon. Just like you.

Jeff: She went to Madrid before, didn’t she?

Doreen: She did. She’s been in Spain before.

Jeff: That was great.

Doreen: But she chose Argentina and you. Yes. So?

Jeff: And she does pretty well also.

Doreen: Does she?

Jeff: I think she knows it and speaks it better than she thinks she does.

Doreen: I think so too. But the important thing is we’re going to go visit her. We’re gonna take the opportunity to go over to Argentina, check it out, and yeah, do some vacation time.

We decided this year that we’re really gonna put some focus into some downtime. Right?

Jeff: Yes.

Doreen: Like exploring the world. We, we’ve always wanted to travel and we always say, okay, next year we’ll do that, you know, when we have more time. But the reality is you really never have more time, right? If you’re setting forth on your goals, you probably don’t have more time to really put in that downtime.

So, you know, we wanted this year to set some vacations on our calendar as a priority, and we suggest that for the listeners out there, put your downtime in. It’s important for you to have, you know, whatever you’d like to do, whether it’s working out or reading, or you have a hobby or a recreation that you like or vacationing, put it on your calendar because you know what, when it comes to it, it’s all gonna be here when you get back.

Jeff: That’s true. And I wonder if there’s any, listeners out there that may have some tips for us as far as Argentina’s goes. Anybody been to Argentina? Maybe they can give us some tips on what to see and where to go and what to do.

Doreen: Well, and we have a very good friend who also, Valeria, who has been amazing in helping us to navigate through and understand Argentina. She’s from there.

Jeff: She’s from Argentina.

Doreen: So, we’re so lucky. She works with us on our coaching and does some things for my law firm, and she’s amazing. So thank you, a shout out to Valeria for all your help with  our trip and for helping Megan as well. We really appreciate it.

Jeff: That was great.

Doreen: All right, so let’s talk about responding versus reacting. Wow, isn’t just something we all need to learn, right?

Jeff: Yes. Well, I think it’s also important to talk about words in general, how important they are to the human being. It’s how we kind of perceive things, express our feelings, express our thoughts, through words. And they can be pretty, pretty powerful.

Doreen: Well, yes, and that’s true. And especially when you are going through divorce, you know, your emotions are heightened. You’re dealing with a lot of what you are. You know, you’re going through this stressful time, and I hesitate there because remember it’s your thoughts. So some people consider divorce to be stressful and other peoples do not consider it to be as stressful, right?

So that’s all about thought work. But what I do wanna suggest is that when you are having challenges in your life such as divorce or you’re restructuring your life after divorce, you know, your emotions tend to be a little more heightened and it’s really, really easy to just react. And I say that quickly because that’s what it is.

Something will happen. your kids will do something you don’t like. And maybe you react by yelling at them, then you regret it later, or your ex calls you up or texts you some kind of nasty gram and you react by texting right back in some nasty way, or maybe somebody at work, you know, says something, or your boss gives you some constructive criticism and you react without really thinking about it.

So what we’re trying to suggest today is that reacting is not the best way that reacting to something without really taking that time out. Right. And thinking about what should my response be? Do I really need to react to whatever it is? And if I do, how do I wanna respond? Right? So when your kids are doing something that’s quite frankly, not making you happy, you know, and you react by yelling and screaming at them, probably they’re going to be in a particular state of mind that is gonna like, you know, snowball.

And it ends into this whole circumstance as opposed to as an example, responding, which might be to go and sit down with them, take them by the hand, look into their eyes and say, Hey, this is what wasn’t acceptable. This is what is acceptable. Use it as a learning situation. Oh, right.

Jeff: Yeah. Can I get a little nerdy?

Doreen: You are far from nerdy, but Yeah.

Jeff: Well, I’m gonna try to get a little nerdy because normally when you hear these two words, react and respond, a lot of people think they’re very, very similar.

Doreen: That’s true.

Jeff: And through our coaching, we’ve found that, there’s a big difference between them. So what I’d like to do is, well, let me ask you a question. Would you rather be react or respond to something?

Doreen: Well, I think based on what I just said, I would much rather respond than react.

Jeff: Exactly. Well, let’s look at the Latin root of each of those words.

Doreen: Okay?

Jeff: Because we break it down, it kind of makes sense. The Latin root for React is back to do and perform. So the keyword here is taking the action back

Doreen: At someone, right?

Jeff: Yes. Or at something.

Doreen: Right.

Jeff: In contrast, the Latin route to respond is back answer. And the key takeaway to that is answering back again to someone or something. Usually, usually in words.

Doreen: And they seem to be like slight differences, but what is the difference?

Jeff: Well, the main difference is when you’re reacting to somebody, it’s almost like a power struggle. You want to take back control, take that power back.

Doreen: That’s true.

Jeff: So when someone’s reacting that way, or I just used the word reaction in the definition, but when somebody comes at you that way, I think you go into a very defensive mode.

Doreen: Well, and I think it stems back from, you know, what we’ve studied and read our primitive brain, you know, back in the cave people I, caveman.

Jeff: Caveman, yes.

Doreen: But I wanna make it neutral cave people time.

Jeff: Yes.

Doreen: It was, you know, it was a matter of safety, you had to react quickly because you were in, you know, the jeopardy of your safety.

Jeff: Yes, it was your mortal danger and your primitive brain didn’t kick in that fight or flight mentality, you could pay with your, so your life.

Doreen: Absolutely. You know, and we all, you know, come from there. So because we come from that we’re just built today to react. And the reality is that there’s likely very few things, thank goodness in your life that you must react to in order to protect your safety or the safety of someone you love. Right? Very few things, but you know, it’s there if you need it. So if somebody was to unfortunately try to do something, you know, physically harm you, you would probably just automatically react to protect yourself or protect your children, whatever that looks like.

In today’s world, we don’t have so much of that, right? But we’re still built that way. Like our primitive brains still wanna just react to everything that feels like it’s attacking us. So when someone is saying something negative to you or you perceive it as being something negative, it’s very, very easy to go right into that reaction mode. And what happens when you do that? What typically happens?

Jeff: Well, again, you met with conflict.

Doreen: Exactly.

Jeff: You know, and I think today we’re still confronted with stressful situations, but I think the main difference between today and those caveman days are is that it isn’t our physical survival that’s threatened. Today, it’s more of our psychological survival is threatened.

Doreen: Right. And so, you know, a lot of times when I’m dealing with, during a divorce, when I’m dealing with, you know, I’m speaking to my client, trying to coach them, but as a lawyer to how to handle communications with their soon to be ex, you know, I’ll see the text messages or the emails going back and forth.

And basically what I’ll suggest is, hey, listen, why don’t we try a different approach? He is saying, or she is saying this to you and your reacting with just as much, you know, it’s like this defense mechanism you’re going back with, but you did this and you did that and pointing out all the bad things that the other person does in reality, where does that get you?

I mean, we’re smarter than that, right? And so I suggest to them, can we try a different tactic? Maybe we can take a deep breath. Count to 10 even put that email aside or that text message aside. Go do something else for a moment and then come back and think about one. Do you have to respond? Some communications, some circumstances truly don’t require a response because the response is gonna just set a spiral situation of negative all over the place. The second thing is, after you decide if you need to respond. What? What? Excuse me, . What’s wrong with my mouth today? Let’s see what .

Jeff: Let me, lemme here, let me give you a little adjustment. There you go. Okay.

Doreen: Well that was strange, huh? But if I’m going to respond, how am I going to respond? Meaning am I gonna respond in writing? Am I going to respond by responding back in maybe a phone call? What is the better way of responding the how? And then the next thing is, what am I going to say? What is my response? And looking at what do I expect the other situation, the other person to then respond back or react back.

And you know certain people that you deal with in your life, come on, you kind of know their emotional state. Okay? These are people like, I’ll give you an example. My mother, okay? She’s 80. How old is she? 83 now. And you know, I know that if I say certain things and I respond a certain way to whatever she’s saying to me, it’s gonna be this snowball effect and just keep her going down that path, right?

So I take a moment and when she’s having a negative thought, negative conversation with me about whatever it is, you know, she’s at that stage in her life, which is, you know, we’re going through, she lives alone and can she live alone? And she’s kind of scared and we’re trying to figure it out, you know, and she get, she’ll have conversations with me and I need to really take my time to respond to her and not keep her in that mindset. Does that make sense?

Jeff: Sure does.

Doreen: You know better than anybody cuz you deal with it as well with me?

Jeff: Yeah. And dealing with her as well. I love convers. You can be conversing with her because I go into a certain mode in my prefrontal cortex that I know when I’m speaking with her that I have to stop and pause and think, how do I want to talk to her.

Doreen: Exactly. Because the words that we say to her, and that’s where the response comes in as to the words will then set up the remaining the remainder of the conversation. Right? And it’s kind of easy when you think about it, to really get someone that is in a negative way or a negative conversation to really change that conversation.

It takes two to continue a negative conversation. And so maybe we should talk about humans, the humans that we are.

Jeff: Okay.

Doreen: And how we differ from other animals, and why as humans we have the ability to really slow down and respond and not react.

Jeff: Well, thankfully, evolution has given us the growth of our prefrontal cortex.

Doreen: Which is what?

Jeff: The part of our brain that we use to function, meaning memory the ability to analyze, planning, taking the time and to do problem solving. Our thinking, long and short terms, and of course, decision making.

Doreen: Where other animals do not have this. Let’s take our dog Coda.

Jeff: Okay.

Doreen: Right. Our dog, Coda loves of course, like most dogs to eat, and they do not generally have the ability to say, because they’re working from their primitive brain.

They don’t have a prefrontal cortex like we do. If you put food down or you have food somewhere in their reach, they’re likely going to say, food, eat. That’s a primitive brain. There is food. I must eat that. And so they don’t have the ability to say, well, I already had breakfast today. I’m really not that hungry.

Do I really need these extra calories? I’m looking a little chunky right now, you know? And maybe I shouldn’t go ahead and eat that food, but we as humans do have that ability. Right? I know it’s kind of a silly example, but it’s true.

Jeff: Right. So, you know, referring back to that Latin route that we talked about early, answering in words, this is where we, when we take that pause and think about what we’re about to say, we activate that cerebral cortex to deal with complicated, more challenging subjects that we face.

Doreen: Right. So, the intelligence level. You know what, how much time do we spend in our life? When you really think about it, time is precious, as we all know, right?

How much time do we spend just reacting and being in that circle, that cycle of just negative? Why would we wanna do that? We’re way too intelligent for that as humans to use our time most efficiently. But it’s really difficult, or I should say it’s more challenging. It’s not impossible when you’re dealing with your ex or you’re dealing with situations stemming from your divorce to just be in that defense mode, that reaction mode.

You know, I deal with it all day long. I have some clients that I call them like, I hate to, you know, use the phrase, but they’re like, you know, almost like a never ending client like an annuity because the communication between the the spouses, you know, the parties is so negative even years after the divorce that they are constantly back in court.

Because no one is willing to just stand down. No one is willing just to take the high road and the bottom line is it just hurts you, right? And so I think we’re so much more intelligent than that. We can really control that. Nobody should be in court for years on end. Very few circumstances after divorce would require that you’re going back to maybe enforce child support or support payments because your ex hasn’t paid.

That’s one thing, but I’m talking about the ongoing bickering and litigation that stems because parents, for example, just can’t figure it out with regard to their children. I’ll tell you something, most courts, especially here in Florida, from my experience, they’re not gonna micromanage. Your life with your ex, so, you know, use your money elsewhere.

Jeff: Yeah. How much time do you spend trying to get your clients to use their prefrontal versus their primitive?

Doreen: Yeah. It’s an ongoing issue. You know, when I have my lawyer hat on, you know, I do, of course, because I’m a coach and because I live and practice what I preach. You know, I do implement the philosophies of life coaching and what we’re talking about today. Some people wanna hear it, other clients don’t. You know, and that’s a prerogative when I’m there and I’m being a lawyer, I’ve got my lawyer hat on, you know, so I’m not, I’m not teaching about this. I’m just gently trying to say, Hey, listen, you know, do you really wanna go to court on this?

Because he was 10 minutes late, you know, this week with the kids again. Why are you making this such a big deal? Yes, it is true. Yes, he is supposed to have the children back at X time. Yes, he is always late. But what are you making that mean?

Jeff: It’s like you always ask people to work backwards and say, you know, what do you want it to mean? Or in other words, what results are you looking for? And then you can determine what thoughts you need to have, which will give you your emotions and your feelings and the results that you want to have.

Doreen: Yeah. This is such powerful stuff. We’re reading a book right now. What’s the name of the book?

Jeff: The Mine Made Prison?

Doreen: Yeah. It’s by, what’s his name again?

Jeff: I’m gonna give you the opportunity to pronounce that.

Doreen: It’s Mateo. And I’m gonna just spell the last name T A B A T A B A I. So again, that’s T A B A T A B A I. I’m on chapter three of it, and basically it’s what we teach about your thoughts create your results, and how you can, you know, if you have the thought, my ex is an ass. Am I allowed to say that?

Jeff: No, he’s nice.

Doreen: Okay. If you have the thought that my ex is a piece of, you know what, right? Or, you know, whatever you wanna use as far as an adjective to describe your ex, right? Then you will find evidence of that. Your brain will seek out the evidence of that.

But if you say, listen, we’re divorced and he’s an okay dad, or he’s not a horrible person, if you can change your thoughts just slightly. Now it has to be something you believe. So something, he’s the father of my children, or she is a mom of my children, you know, she is generally a good person.

Whatever that slight shift is. and you can move that. You will start to find evidence of he is a good dad or she is a good mom, you will start to change your outcome as a result of that as well, because now you’re seeking the good and not the bad, because you’ll find evidence of both.

Jeff: Sure. I’m also on chapter three, and what I’ve taken from it so far is that the thoughts that you have can in imprison your results, right? I mean, you can be imprisoned by the way you see things and it, and it could really, really, hold you back in life.

Doreen: Well, obviously, you know, this is what we teach. And it’s so interesting that they don’t teach this in school.

I, you know, they don’t teach this, you know, we just go around every day just trying to live our lives and do the best we can do. And nobody ever suggests, like we are, that you slow down and think about your thoughts, right? Why am I thinking this way? And when I think this way, what are the results in my life?

So our message today is about slowing that down, slowing down your reaction and making it a response so that you can create the result that you want at the end of the day.

Jeff: So how do we do it? . So now let’s talk about it.

Doreen: We already have.

Jeff: No, not really. I have some more stuff.

Doreen: Oh, okay.

Jeff: Let’s start again.

Doreen: Go ahead. Go, go ahead.

Jeff: All right. Well, no, I think you have to have it takes pre-planning. One of the many strengths of your prefrontal cortex is planning. So I think when you know you’re gonna be meeting somebody, or you know, you’re gonna be having a conversation with somebody. Plan the conversation.

Doreen: Especially when you know that that conversation or that person might be challenging for you. .

Jeff: Well, that’s the next thing, is awareness. You’re aware of who you’re gonna be speaking with and the type of personality, but you’re also aware of your outcome and what you’re looking to accomplish.

Doreen: Exactly. And especially when you’re in circumstances that you can’t control, such as, you know, maybe people you work with, maybe clients that you have, obviously your children, your ex, who’s still gonna be in your life if you have kids. Yeah. Right. It’s a reality.

Jeff: And another one is that it’s very important is to slow down.

Doreen: Yeah. We all are so fast in life.

Jeff: I know. You tell me that a lot.

Doreen: I do. Because I think like everything’s hurried. You know, it’s, it’s the nature of our society. Everything is at your fingertips. You know, you’re constantly on social media and the internet. Everything’s fast, fast.

Jeff: Yeah, but when you believe fast, fast is not good. It’s not always good. It can be good, but it’s sometimes it’s not so good.

Doreen: Yeah. But you know what I wanna suggest that it’s rarely good. Yeah. It really is.

Jeff: I agree with you and, but it also allows time for your prefrontal cortex to override your primitive brain to serve you better. And it serves you better, your interest and your goals.

Doreen: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Jeff: Yeah. So, How can you be sure that you’re gonna respond versus react?

Doreen: Well, tell us how.

Jeff: Well, I think there’s four steps.

Doreen: Okay.

Jeff: How many? Four steps or four tips. How’s that?

Doreen: How’s that?

Jeff: The first one, write down a list of situations that have let’s say, caused you to react in the past in a negative way.

So let’s say we write down, met with my husband over, or my wife, my ex, soon to be ex, soon to be ex over the child custody. You know, and this, that, and the other. So I’ve reacted that way before. So now you have a list of things that, that you need to kind of watch out for.

Doreen: Well, your trigger points, right? Yeah. The people in your life and the situations in your life that trigger some reactions that you’re probably not proud of.

Jeff: Right. Now, this thought or s detection allows you to activate the prefrontal cortex and it rejects automatically the primitive brains urges.

Doreen: Okay, so what do you do next?

Jeff: Well, it’s important to slow down again. Take a breath. Yeah. Always like to breathe, and then you have stopped the information going to your primitive brain and now it’s preventing it to go causing it to go into the prefrontal cortex. Yeah, I know a little bit heavy with science and all that good stuff, but this is really good stuff.

Doreen: Well, what I like to do and I catch myself, you know, juggling, juggling, you know, my caseload and my employees and all of this. It’s very easy to be in the, let’s get through all my, you know, 200 emails today and just like react to each one. Sometimes it’s a better idea to just kind of walk away and I’ll put myself in time out.

Like, I literally will say you’re not in good mindset right now. You need to go take a walk. You need to go do some meditation, you need to go listen to some music. You need to go, you know, do any, go outside for a few minutes and just like, look at the beauty of nature, whatever it is, come back and then revisit it.

Jeff: Yeah. It sounds like you’re prefrontal cortex is doing a little bit more than just conversing with other people. You’re, it’s running your whole life in a positive way.

Doreen: Not always .

Jeff: Not always, but it, that’s our goal.

Doreen: Yeah. I mean, this is constant work on a daily basis for all of us. Right.

Jeff: I know. I’m working on it.

Doreen: Yeah. It’s important. All right, so I think that was a good tip today. Thanks so much.

Jeff: I liked it.

Doreen: You came up with this subject? Yeah, I actually got this, I was inspired from what’s his name, Cody on Peloton. I do Peloton. Love my Cody. . And he was talking about that. He was talking about, don’t react, respond, you know, cuz every so often he’ll do some coaching, some mental coaching, you know, mental healthcare coaching when he’s doing his ride.

And I said this might be a good subject for our listeners. And so you thought it was.

Jeff: Well, we typically get our topics from our life experiences.

Doreen:  Absolutely. Absolutely. All right everybody, so listen, as always, if you have any questions, you wanna make some comments, Always reach out to us. You know where to find us.

We don’t have to, you know, our website is And as always, you know, we provide a complimentary session on coaching if you’re interested. I think you have what, two spaces open right now?

Jeff: Two spaces.

Doreen: My spaces are closed right now. I have, uh, maxed out on my individual coaching, but I’m sure I’ll have one open probably in the next, I would say 30 days or so.

Jeff: Sounds good.

Doreen: Okay, everybody, listen, have an amazing week. Slow down. And you can think about how you want to respond versus react and try it on for size. See how it works for you and your relationships in your life and the results that you want. All right. Have a great day.

Jeff: You do the same.

Doreen: All right. Bye everyone.

Jeff: Bye. You have the vision of what you want your life to look like after divorce, but maybe you just don’t know how to get there. So if you’re ready to take control of your life and want to find out more about our coaching, visit us at That’s L A D as in life after divorce dash

Doreen: Until next time, have an amazing rest of your day. And remember, yes, you can have an amazing life after divorce.


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