Basic Principles

Compiled and/or created by

Tadao Ogura, M.D.


III.  On Attitudes
III-1 Don't react, but act

Dr. Ogura’s Comment
This is one of the most practical and useful principles of all.  The more we live by this principle, the better and the easier our lives will be.

We don’t have to refresh our memory about the last time we regretted what we had done in “reaction.”  It might have been a situation when we felt so frustrated that we lost our composure and spoke too loud or said the wrong thing.  It might have been a hasty decision we had made in reaction to the pressure.   No matter what, once it’s done, it’s too late. 

Most of us are easily driven by our emotions (anger, discomfort, or even joy) and react or over-react, only to regret it later.  Sometimes, an apology might undo the damage.  But, too often, once the damage is done, it is there to stay.  No apology or compensation can undo the consequence.

When alcoholics in their early recovering days gathered in their meetings, they shared their painful experiences of their “reacting.”  Fresh in sobriety, they had to struggle with their emotions that they used to suppress or kill with alcohol.  Now that they cannot escape from their emotions into alcohol, they had to deal with their emotions face to face for the first time in long time or the very first time ever.  They then came up with this phrase, “Don’t react but act.”  Like many other AA phrases, this one also came out of their struggles to remain sober in their often painful, hard lives.

“Reacting” is impulsive.  Therefore, it takes hard self-discipline not to react.  How do we do that?  We cannot control or change our emotions at will.  But we have some control over our bodies.  Therefore, we must use the control over our bodies to deal with boiling emotions underneath.

First, you must hold your breath and then breathe slowly.  Controlling your breathing has profound meanings as explained in “The Art of Controlled Breathing” in this website.  When trying to control your breathing, you must also tighten your lower abdomen and the anus, as explained in this article.  Then, tightly close your lips so that you don’t blurt out wrong words.  Then, try to loosen all the body muscles.  By this conscious physical control, you can stop your impulsive reaction at least for a few seconds.  But usually, a few seconds are all you need to regain your composure.  If you still don’t know what to do, remind yourself of the Basic Principles II on Choices.

Most of the time, by practicing the technique described above, you can mange not to react but act.  But like anything else, it will take a lot of practice to be good at it.


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