17. Don’t React, Act – 21 Success Sutras for Leaders

Chapter Seventeen

Don’t React, Act

Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude.


Thomas Jefferson

Many conflicts arise when people react rather than act towards a situation. Most problems could be resolved if people endeavoured to do so with a positive attitude. Here, act is accompanied by a positive attitude while react comes with a negative one. You can easily judge a person by the way he approaches a conflict. If he approaches it with a negative attitude, the conflict will be aggravated. However, if he approaches it with a positive attitude, the conflict will be resolved easily. In fact, man is responsible for most problems. He often blames God for all his problems, when he alone is responsible for all of them. Most of man’s problems are due to his rotten attitude. When man attacks others negatively and with a bad attitude, he invites problems for himself. Sometimes envy takes over and he breaks his relations with others. Ultimately he blames God. In fact, man makes mistakes and makes God the scapegoat for the most part. As long as man enjoys pleasure, he forgets God; but the moment pressures begin to build up, he recalls God and holds Him accountable for all his problems. Man must be grateful towards others and towards God.

In addition, most of the time man reacts to problems, instead of acting vis-à-vis them. Man blames individuals for all issues without looking at ideas to resolve them. Man often wants an easy life and quick success and compromises on several things, and finally blames God for the consequences.

90:10 Principle

When one of my students wanted to share the 90:10 principle with me, I requested him to share it in the presence of other students so that they too could benefit from his knowledge. He said that 90 per cent of problems can be solved by acting rather than reacting to the situation, and that 10 per cent of problems were beyond human control. Hence, we should not concern ourselves much with that 10 per cent that arise out of external forces and factors; but we need to take a quick look at the 90 per cent of problems that can be tackled easily with a proactive attitude and approach. Treat every problem as a prospect and every lesson as a path towards your success.

Reaction vs. Response

People often miss the subtle difference between reacting and responding. There is a difference between the two, with the former word sending a negative and the latter a positive message. If people know the difference between the two and approach a situation intending to respond rather than react to challenges, I am sure most problems can be averted and conflicts resolved.

It is essential to respond rather than react, and to act rather than react to others. Both responding and acting to issues sound better than reacting to them. By nature, most people react rather than respond to unfavourable situations. This proves to be costly later. And most people are aware of this, so it is unfortunate that people still react at the spur of the moment and regret later.

Reacting often leaves us in the lurch. However, with time, patience and practice, you can make responding your primary method of dealing with tricky situations. When faced with problems, people often react rather than act without giving a serious and cool thought to it, and this aggravates the problem. Sometimes people magnify tiny problems and worry a lot, resulting in more provocative reactions. Certain things in our lives are beyond our control. There is no point in reacting to such situations, and we can avoid doing so. People often waste their precious energies brooding about things over which they have no control.

Life is in your hands. You have a choice to make—either to react or to respond to a conflict or a tricky situation. It is said that belowaverage individuals talk about individuals, average individuals talk about issues, and above-average individuals talk about ideas. Everything is present in the human mind, and informs how an individual views a scenario and approaches to handle it.

Lenny’s Academic Passion

Lenny was pursuing a doctoral degree. He rose from humble beginnings. He joined a petty job when he was barely 18 years of age due to financial hardships at home. His passion was to pursue an engineering degree, but he could not do so due to his domestic financial constraints. But he did not lose heart. He tried for employment and got a job. He found it very tough to get along in his job as this was the age for him to pursue studies. Somehow he continued his employment and began pursuing higher studies. Subsequently, he left his job and got into academics as he had a passion for teaching. He realized that the academia appreciated doctoral degrees. Hence, he started working on a Ph.D. despite great financial difficulties.

However, his academic activities interfered with his doctoral research. He had to interact with his research guide often, and he found it tough to meet the expectations of his guide. He realized that a Ph.D. was not like an academic examination, which merely had to be attended to acquire a qualification. It needed continuous interactions with the guide, and he also felt that completing a doctoral degree needed a lot of chemistry between research scholar and guide. But his burning desire for a doctoral degree forced him to get the best out of himself. He balanced his teaching, research and family life. He underwent a lot of trials and tribulations. He decided to respond to challenges, rather than react to them. He faced several obstacles from all quarters during his four years of doctoral research. For instance, the interpretation of results was done by another expert, which was not accepted by the guide. Lenny had to work hard to bridge the gap between the expert and the research guide, and this took a lot of time and money. Above all, he realized that there were big egos in academics, more than in any other sector. When the entire doctoral thesis was sent to three experts for evaluation, the evaluators took a long time to give their reports. Lenny pursued them with several reminders, and ultimately received the reports with positive comments. Finally, the Vice-Chancellor of the university went on a long leave, and the decision to conduct his doctoral seminar was delayed. Lenny waited patiently and responded to all challenges, and finally got his doctoral degree. From this story, it is obvious that life offers several challenges, but we have to make decisions to respond, not react.

Your life depends on the path you choose and the decisions you make. Life is full of challenges, and man faces problems from the cradle to the grave. Man’s problems end the day he goes to his grave. Hence, it is essential to respond rather than react to several problems. Doing so makes sense, and makes your life peaceful and pleasant. It also helps you to empathize with others when they have problems of their own.

Albert Einstein noted, ‘We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if mankind is to survive.’ We need to have a great attitude to ensure the survival of mankind. John C. Maxwell talks about attitude in his book Attitude: What Every Leader Needs to Know:

It is the advance of the man of our true selves.

Its roots are inward, but its fruit is outward.

It is our best friend or our worst enemy.

It is more honest and more consistent than our words.

It is an outward look based on past experiences.

It is a thing which draws people to us or repels them.

It is never content until it is expressed.

It is the librarian of our past.

It is the speaker of our present.

It is the prophet of our future.

Several wars have broken out due to the reactive attitude of our rulers. If rulers had only acted with restraint, they could have averted several wars. Ultimately, it was the people who were killed and countries that met with disasters. Hence, reaction is something people should avoid. When people act rather than react, most of their problems are resolved naturally. To conclude, have a positive, right and strong attitude and learn to act rather than react to situations. Finally, have an attitude of gratitude towards God.