"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 freedom." Viktor Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning.
Dr. Frankl survived being in four different Nazi concentration camps and lost most of his family, including his pregnant wife. In Man's Search for Meaning, he writes about how humans are driven by purpose and meaning and the power we have to choose our responses to even the most difficult circumstances.
How often have you been confronted by a situation and later thought, "I wish I had responded differently?" or "What was I thinking?" or "How could I have been so wrong?" It is very easy to be faced by some sort of stimulus - a feeling, a thought and/or a bodily sensation and respond without getting curious about the stimulus and then later wish we hadn't responded in the way we did. How do we break out of this pattern? We need to take Dr. Frankl's words to heart and create a space between the feeling/thought and the action. Is this simple? Yes. Is this hard? Yes.
The first step is to notice the feeling/thought. Let's say you are in a meeting with a colleague with whom you have a contentious relationship. You make a suggestion and you notice an expression come over your colleague's face that you interpret as disapproval. Your thought may be, "What a (insert curse word of your choice)". Maybe you feel shame, disapproval and/or embarrassment. You may also get a sick feeling in your stomach, your shoulders tighten or your head ache. If you have been practicing staying present in the moment, you are able to - in the moment - notice your reaction. You can then go to the second step.
The second step is to get curious about your reaction as an objective observer. Think about the questions an objective friend would ask - What was going on in the meeting? What were others' reactions? What are the possibilites for your colleague's reaction? How do you normally react to this colleague? How does she/he push your buttons?
The third step is to choose your response. By this point, your rational brain is back in charge from your emotional brain. You are in a much better place to make a choice with which you will approve now and later.
The hardest step is the first - staying present. That is a topic for another blog post.
I will leave you with this - we all experience pain, but we choose how much we suffer. Noticing our reactions, getting curious and actively choosing our response helps us to deal with pain and minimizes suffering.