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.
– Viktor Frankl
From the first time I read this quote, I was intrigued. I could appreciate the power of pausing to choose my response and yet there were times that I simply couldn’t find this so-called ‘space’!!! I was convinced the space did not exist!
I would notice situations where I experienced a sudden, intense and predictable reaction. Some of these situations included:
- Dealing with ‘stupid’ issues at work.
- Dealing with people who didn’t do their share of the work.
- Teaching my daughters to sew and sweep the floor ‘the right way’.
- Hurrying through my work so I could take on the next project.
My reaction was a little different depending on the situation but inevitably it involved self-talk, physical tension, a sense of frustration, and usually tone in my voice. This ‘react mode’ in the moment felt justified. It was not me who had to change but rather I expected others to do things ‘my way’.
With this quote, I was being challenged to find the space to choose my response. But I continued to repeat the same patterns over and over again. My personal development quest was to be kinder and more compassionate. I was curious and committed to working on my response. I meditated. I did yoga. I exercised. Although I felt calmer overall, all of this effort didn’t change my reactions in these specific situations. I still wasn’t finding the space.
I will make a comment here that many of my friends and colleagues struggled with the same issues. Not everyone felt the need to change their response. Despite all my efforts, I didn’t feel that I was making noticeable shifts. In fact, the longer I worked, the more rigid these patterns felt. For me, it seemed that thinking I had the space to choose had created additional stress.
‘What is wrong with me that I am responding this way? I should be able to simply breath, pause and not lose my cool.’
And then I was introduced to a new, structured approach to shift my energy. I took time to notice my reactions and stay with the thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations. I was able to locate the memories and beliefs that triggered the automatic reactions. I was finally able to shift the triggers that eliminated my space to choose.
Now I was aware that mental images and other sensory perceptions trigger automatic reactions. These perceptions eliminate the space between the stimulus and the response. These perceptions were the memories and beliefs that I adopted from my parents, family and community. They helped me make sense of the world and yet now, they were getting in the way. They were triggering survival responses (fight, flight, freeze) when they weren’t necessary.
I was curious. I now could use a structured process to shift these perceptions. The automatic reactions fell away. I no longer had to struggle to find the space. When the energy shifted, the space was there naturally.
So what have I learned?
I can create the space to choose my response when I pause to notice my reactions and follow a guided process to identify and shift the perceptual trigger. When I resolve these triggers, more of my energy is available to me. Rather than getting stuck in patterned, automatic reactions, there is a natural flow to choosing my response. I notice more ease, confidence, and clarity to trust my decisions. My energy is available to support my growth and my freedom.