Between stimulus and response there is a space.
In that space is our power to choose our response.
In our response lies our growth and our freedom.
– Victor Frankl, Psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor
I hope the first line of this famous quote of Victor Frankl’s caught your eyes, because here he is talking about what most of us live through our lives unaware of. Let’s take an example. You just found out that you were fired – stimulus- and you are thinking “I’m a loser,” “I’m already too old to get hired again.” “I’ll lose my house and my family,” and feeling despair, anger, and shame. Then you go to a bar to drink until you can’t anymore – reaction.
Where is the space that Victor Frankl is talking about in this scenario? Although hard to detect and/or believe, there is a brief gap between hearing the news and thinking, “I’m a loser,” and in the gap we choose the way we react to the news. What creates suffering is not the news itself; but the way we react to it, when it was chosen while we are on an autopilot mode. Have you heard of how we live through our days in the autopilot mode, meaning that we do what we do moment by moment like a zombie without being aware of our experiences of the moment? We all have driven from home to work unable to recall anything on the roads, or suddenly we realize there is freshly brewed coffee, and wondering, “Did I make it?” (Has that happened only to me?)
Here is one way of living our lives as humans, not zombies: Pause after a stimulus before responding. Practice to pause or stop for a moment, before you start to attack back, after your partner said that you have not done a good job with cleaning. Stop for a moment to pay the duly attention to your thoughts, feelings, and bodily reaction to learn the impact of your partner’s comment. Do you feel hurt? How do you know that you are hurting? What are the signs? Is your stomach churning? What does the comment mean to you? Notice the whole spectrum of the impact without being judgmental as much as you can.
If you take enough time to get to know how you have been affected, you will see your options of responses (not reactions). Feel like yelling back at your partner? Tears rolling down? Need to walk away because it is too overwhelming? Whatever your choices are, they will be coming from your authentic self, not from a zombie-like-state-of-mind. This is valuable and meaningful because you have made friends with yourself rather than negate or cut out a part of your truths, and thus, your inner self and your actions are aligned.
Practice to pause as often as you can throughout your day, especially at the times of emotional turbulence. We all have our favorite autopilot modes, for example, attacking back with sarcasm when we perceive criticism or blaming ourselves when we did not get what we want. By pausing, we are increasing the space between stimulus and response, and by doing this, we become empowered.