135: Between Stimulus and Response

“The last of the human freedoms: to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. And there were always choices to make. Every day, every hour, offered the opportunity to make a decision, a decision which determined whether you would or would not submit to those powers which threatened to rob you of your very self, your inner freedom, which determined whether or not you become the plaything to circumstance, renouncing freedom and dignity…”

This is a favorite quote of mine.  From

― Victor Frankl’s book, “Man’s Search for Meaning.”

I’d like to read to you a quick synopsis of Victor Frankl’s life, as written by Stephen R. Covey:

“Victor Frankl was born on March 26th, 1905.  An Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, who founded logotherapy, a school of psychotherapy that describes a search for life’s meaning as the central human motivational force.

Frankl was a determinist raised in the tradition of Freudian psychology, which postulates that whatever happens to you as a child shapes your character and personality and basically governs your whole life.  The limits and parameters of your life are set, and, basically, you can’t do much about it. 

Frankl was also a psychiatrist and a Jew.  He was imprisoned in the death camps of Nazi Germany, where he experienced things that were so repugnant to our sense of decency that we shudder to even repeat them.

His parents, his brother, and his wife died in the camps or were sent to the gas ovens.  Except for his sister, his entire family perished.  Frankl himself suffered torture and innumerable indignities, never knowing from one moment to the next if his path would lead to the ovens or if he would be among the “saved” who would remove the bodies or shovel out the ashes of those so fated.

One day, naked and alone in a small room, he began to become aware of what he later called “the last of the human freedoms” (the quote I read at the beginning of this episode), the freedom his Nazi captors could not take away.  They could control his entire environment, they could do what they wanted to his body, but Victor Frankl himself was a self-aware being who could look as an observer at his very involvement.  His basic identity was intact.  He could decide within himself how all of this was going to affect him.”

One of the things that is unique to the human race is the ability to think about what you are thinking.

Animals are not able to do this.

We call this being self-aware.

This is the way we evaluate our own experiences as well as others around us.

This is also why we can create and break habits.

Even though we can think,

we are not our thoughts.

We are not our feelings.

Because we can think about thinking shows us that we are not our thoughts or our feelings.

There is a part of us that is separate from both.

I didn’t even know this was a thing until a few years ago.

I remember someone in High School telling me that no one could make me feel anything.

But either I didn’t believe her or more than likely, I didn’t understand what she was trying to say.

I saw myself as the receiver of what other people said. 

I felt what I felt and because I didn’t see another way, I had no control over any of it.

I believe this is what the main cause of my depression was.

I don’t know if the chemical imbalance was before or after the years of thinking this way or visa versa.  I’m sure there are a lot of studies and differing opinions about that.  But that’s not really what I wanted to talk about today.

I just want to point out our ability to be aware of our own thoughts and feelings.

This gives us more power in our circumstances than we realize.

Victor Frankl was able to use self-awareness to discover one of the most fundamental principles of human nature:

which is,

that between stimulus and response, man has the freedom to choose. 

We also have that right.  We get to choose when something happens to us (which is what he meant by stimulus), how we want to respond.

When our emotions are high and we lose sight of our clear-thinking skills, we shorten the space between the stimulus and response.

Can you think of a time when that’s happened to you?

When you responded too quickly and didn’t give yourself the space to make a conscious decision of how you wanted to respond?

I’m guilty too!!!

I’m not sure there is anyone who can say they haven’t done this.

But that’s how we learn.

Notice it and then make a conscious choice to do something different next time.

We have other human abilities that were given to us that help us use this freedom of choice.

We have imagination, which is the ability to come up with an idea that isn’t in our current reality.

We have a conscience, which is a deep sense of what is right and wrong.

And we also have agency.  Agency is our ability to act how we choose.

Because we each have these abilities within us (the rare exceptions we won’t discuss here today) we can make decisions for ourselves that can be separate from our circumstances or what Victor Frankl called the stimulus.

We only limit ourselves when we choose not to use these abilities that have been programmed in us.

When we chose to be PROactive, our actions are made based on our decisions and not our conditions.

PROactive people base impulses on their VALUES, which they have thought about, decided to believe, and internalized them.

If we choose to be REactive instead, we have chosen to allow our physical environment to make the choice for us.

Please don’t miss understand me, there are so many variables that affect our ability to make choices, but we ultimately still have the choice. 

We may have to work harder at it and give ourselves lots of compassion until it becomes easier, but it is still possible.

One of the first steps to become proactive instead of reactive is to notice that there is a space between what happens to you and how you respond. 

Just start noticing. 

And that is my challenge for you today. 

Try to notice the space between the things that happen and when you respond.  Can you take a step back (usually in your head), notice the thing that happened, and then CHOOSE how you want to respond. 

That’s it.

I want to hear your thoughts on this! 

Is this something that is natural for you or is it something you’ve never noticed before?

What changes when you do it?

Send me a quick email at marla@hunkeedori.com and tell me what you noticed as you try this.

I really want to know!

135: Between Stimulus and Response
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