How often do you respond to people and situations without even thinking about it?
How often do you repeat the same old arguments with your partner? Sometimes the topics change and sometimes they’re the same but they all end up heading in the same direction.
Do you ever wonder why your life isn’t going in the direction you want or why you keep repeating the same patterns?
How do you respond to life?
Your answers probably have a lot to do with your responses to life. Your responses are the moment-to-moment choices you make, usually subconsciously, to handle whatever is in your life.
Thinking about Viktor Frankl’s quote above, I lived most of my life thinking that there was absolutely nothing between stimulus and response. I stub my toe, instant pain and a profanity or two comes out of my mouth. My husband makes a comment that hits one of my buttons and I light up, get defensive, angry and attack or shut down – the beginning of another one of the same old arguments that never really gets resolved.
I did this for decades and wondered why my whole life kept repeating itself in cycles that I wanted so desperately to change. Like many people, I thought changing where I lived or changing who I’m with would surely fix the problem. But it never does.
Wherever you go, there you are
No matter where I go, I always take myself with me. And there lies both the problem and the resolution.
I lived in my problems for entirely too long because I expected people and things outside of me to fix the problems. I defended myself saying, “That’s just the way I am. Take it or leave it.” I was looking for someone or something else to create my happiness. How stupid could I have been?
It took me getting to the lowest of low points in my life where I felt like nothing I did was working. I was physically and emotionally exhausted from resisting and trying to control everything and everyone around me to no avail.
Enter: The Pause
And then I gave up. I stopped trying to control. I stopped blaming. I stopped defending myself. And I was quiet for the first time.
I didn’t know what to do but I knew that I couldn’t do what I had been doing.
It was the first time that I slowed down enough to realize that there truly is a space between stimulus and response.
In conversations, we’re all so uncomfortable with the “pregnant pause” where someone waits a second or two too long before responding.
When we break up a relationship, initially we want to jump right into a new one. No pause there.
We need to learn to get comfortable with that pause both in conversations and in our life. Slowing down enough to contemplate the stimulus before consciously creating our best response. This can take anywhere from a second to many days (or years).
Utilizing The Pause
The other day I was in a bad mood. My negative energy was rubbing off on my husband and he made a comment that used to be the beginnings of a fight. As my lips parted to fire a comment back, I paused, bit my tongue and said nothing.
What went through my mind in that split second was: I don’t want to fight and if I say this next thing, we’ll be fighting. That comment in my throat is just my defensiveness. He’s being negative because I’m negative. He’s feeding off of me. I’m going to pretend that I didn’t hear what he just said because he probably didn’t really want to say it. Wow! Look what I’ve created with this bad mood of mine. Better snap out of it and turn my day around.
Then I walked over to my husband, kissed him and apologized for being in such a bad mood. I said that I was sorry for bringing his day down and asked if he could forget it ever happened.
And we both had a much better day.
I try my best to do the same with my kids but know that the stakes are higher with them. Everything with kids counts. There’s no forgetting about it.
When I let my emotions flare with them, when I don’t take that second to pause, the best I can do then is to apologize. I explain to them that I realize that my actions were not acceptable. I explain to them what I should have done and ask if they agree. If they don’t agree, I ask them what they think I should have done (for my own future reference).
I know that young children don’t forgive and forget but I at least want them to know that I know I was wrong. As they grow up I want them to know that those kinds of things aren’t acceptable for them to do.
I realize that we teach far more by our actions than our words but no one is perfect. We’re all doing our best.
For the rest of your day today (and beyond), see how many times you can slow down your thoughts and actions enough to consider if what you’re about to say or do next is in your best interest.
Are you about to defend yourself (“That’s just the way I am!”) when being yourself hasn’t led to the outcomes you want?
Are you about to make a purchase for something you don’t really need that will put you further in debt or otherwise stress your financial situation?
Are you about to say something that could be taken the wrong way by the recipient? Is there a different way to say it?
Are you about to check your email or Facebook again when you wonder why you can’t get much accomplished each day?
Are you going to skip your workout again because you’re “too busy” and wonder why you can’t get rid of that extra weight or why you have little energy?
In our response lies our growth and our freedom.
I’m honored to have my guest post, 5 Steps to Accepting the Beauty of Change, featured at Zeenat Merchant-Syal’s beautiful blog, Positive Provocations. Hop over and leave a comment and let me know what you think!