“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.”
- Dr. Viktor Frankl
Life happens. We react. We react without thinking. We react unconsciously – on ‘auto-pilot’.
This may not be true of everyone, but it certainly was the case with me. Whether it related to interacting with other people, or to facing a situation within my own mind, it was the same: I would often react without thinking. I would react without even realising that I was offering unconscious, knee-jerk reactions.
By doing this, not only was I was creating more stress and struggle for myself, but as Viktor Frankl points out, I was also giving up a huge freedom – the freedom to create a different reality. One that might make myself and those around me a lot happier. One that could benefit us all in some way.
Whether it was ‘noisy kids on the bus’ or the ‘unhelpful person at the information desk’, they all had the ability to control me… to influence how I felt. If people didn’t behave as ‘they should’ or as I expected them to, I would get annoyed and my mood would be ruined, sometimes for the rest of the day – this was a big part of my day to day reality back then.
Very often, my reactions and ways of handling things had more to do with my habits and conditioning than the situation at hand. They also had a lot to do with my expectations and judgments – of life, of others and of myself.
Whatever the cause may be and despite the fact that it is something common to many people, the reality is that we can choose to pause and think before we react. We can break the cycle of stimulus and knee-jerk response. We do have the freedom and the ability to exercise it – if we’re willing to. This is true at least some, if not all of the time.
In every moment, there could be an infinite number of possibilities, choices and opportunities available to us. So why then should we repeat the tired old scripts – especially if they no longer serve us?
We can choose to see another’s point of view; to forgive, to empathise, to understand, to simply let it go (even if we’re ‘right’), to simply not care, to be easier on others and ourselves.
I don’t think there is any ‘weakness’ in this. In fact, I have found that it takes more strength and courage to catch myself and turn things around than it does to simply lash out or complain.
I’ll admit, I’ve found it challenging. Very challenging! Things like complaining, feeling victimised, feeling wronged or venting my anger seem to come so easily. But as I moved towards consciously choosing how to handle situations, my day to day experience of life has improved tremendously. There is less irritation, less whinging, less anger and very much less stress. Not only for myself, but for those around me.
In some cases this has brought unexpected (and positive) results: breakthroughs in communication; healing in relationships; a huge sense of relief and a feeling of accomplishment at having mastered myself – at least on the odd occasion or two.
I hardly notice noisy kids on busses anymore. I am too busy looking around at things to appreciate and admire. I don’t really have unhelpful people at the help desks or checkout counters. Most are smiley and helpful and the ones that aren’t – they don’t bother me as much anymore.
I have learned to take situations and people more as they are than as I’d like them to be. I have learned to choose how I respond. In doing so, I have taken back at least some of my power and some control over how I feel.
I can’t tell you how sweet it is – the freedom of being immune (at least some of the time) to the odd curveball that life throws at me. I get to taste this freedom regularly. I am far from being out of the woods and I understand that a bigger curveball may be just round the corner. Yet, there’s no denying that things are so much better now than they were.
I believe in it. It’s been tried and tested. It works. Ask Viktor Frankl. He made it through The Holocaust . Ill-treatment at the hands of the Nazis, concentration camps, death of loved ones – he faced them all and made it out alive, with his spirit and humanity intact.
So I will keep challenging myself (short temper and all). What about you?