“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 E. Frankl
Earlier this week, I chatted online with a friend to prevent myself from writing a petty and knee-jerk response to someone else. Chatting with my friend, and following the tips below, helped me find the space I needed so I wouldn’t do or say something I would regret.
Later in the week the topic of controlling our responses came up with two other friends on two different topics. It’s amazing how easy it is for all of us to take the bait, verbally one-up someone, or feel the need to have the last word.
But with practice and lots of fun, flow, and fulfillment in our lives the need to negatively respond to life’s surprises and slights and the gentle ribbing or intended jabs of others grows less and less and our ability to find positive ways to handle touchy, hurtful, or stressful situations grows stronger.
In the “space” Frankl speaks of, there is room for all of us. It’s a cozy, safe place and hidden within it are more options than we ever imagined for achieving growth and experiencing freedom. Give it a try.
Here are some tips for holding your tongue or stilling your fingers that will help you find your place in the “space”:
- The minute you feel the sting, take a deep breath. A few seconds of deep breathing will help switch your brain from automatic pilot and lead you off the slippery slope you are sliding down. Breath, long, slow and steady, in through your nose out through your nose.
- Pause, even for a few seconds, and then admit what you are feeling. “Wow, that hurt!” “Ouch.” “Yikes.” “Ooh, I felt that one.”
- Slowly step back from the situation: stand-up, sit down, move away from the computer or leave the room. Find a way to give yourself physical space from the situation or the person and do it slowly and without drama – no stalking off or slamming down paperwork or doors behind you.
- Next, give yourself some mental space by doing something you like or that is on your to-do-list. Something as simple as making a cup of coffee and/or getting a treat; taking a walk around the block or the office or throwing in a load of laundry or making copies can help you relax and redirect your thoughts.
- And, then be prepared to be uncomfortable. Not reacting is difficult, but as Frankl learned firsthand under the horrific conditions in concentration camps, there is space between stimulus and response and that is where growth happens. Your uneasiness is an emotional growing pain, that’s a good thing.
Tips for dealing with the situation or person.
- Later talk out your feelings with someone you trust or Mind-Map or draw them out. (Make this Step way more about exploring your true feelings than venting your anger or what the other person did.) Admit what you are feeling, if not to your friend, at least to yourself.
- Do something nice for yourself. (If your friend or child were hurt, you would treat them kindly, treat yourself the same way, dealing with change isn’t easy.)
- Now share your success about not responding with someone you trust or congratulate yourself for holding your tongue or not writing the email. (“I’m proud of myself for not reacting. It was hard, but I did it.”)
- Give yourself time to deal with your feelings, and do not convince yourself you need to have an immediate “showdown” with the person you are upset with. Talking with them in the future might be the way to go, but wait until your anger has subsided and you have time to get your thoughts together. When you do talk to them focus on your needs and your feelings, you can mention their behavior, but don’t critique it. Write a script if you need to. (“O” magazine features monthly scripts to readers by Dr. Phil. Use those as a sample or starting point.)
- Figure out your role in the situation and decide what changes you need to make to reduce the likelihood that this or similar situations will happen in the future and to increase the likelihood that you will be able to handle them calmly and immediately, if they do. Come up with a plan for making those changes happen.
If you weren’t able to hold your tongue or still your fingers, don’t beat-up on yourself, but do make a sincere apology and then start over at Step 1 of “Tips for dealing with the situation or person.” (I’ll be sharing tips for making sincere apologies in a future post.)
And, then enjoy your new-found freedom.