“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space lays our freedom and power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom.” – Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
Whatever your situation “finding the gap” or creating ‘space’ is an incredibly powerful way of making decisions or choices that serve you well.
Victor Frankl was a Viennese psychiatrist who survived concentration camp life during the Second World War. One of the ways that he survived was through separating himself from the horrors in front of him by asking himself questions, pausing to see the larger picture, thereby detaching himself from impulsive thoughts and poorly thought-out actions. He learned to choose how he thought and therefore felt-about what he was experiencing.
Frankl implies that people often react and take action without thinking. We frequently don’t choose our behaviours so much as just act them out. However, he observes that we don’t need to accept such reflexive reactions. Instead, we can learn to notice that there is a “space” before we react. He suggests that we can grow and change and be different if we can learn to recognize, increase, and make use of this ‘space.’ With such self- awareness, we can find freedom from the pre-programmed internal narrative and external social pressures. And with that, we can make decisions that yield a better result.
Victor Frankl was clearly an extraordinary man and we can follow his lead by looking for the ‘space’ in our own lives. When faced with situations that previously resulted in an automatic reaction, we can “find the gap” to choose our response instead. Some useful methods to assist in this include mindfulness meditation, reflective practice, yoga or just curiously noticing the impact of stimuli before responding.
Consider finding your ‘space’ to respond, rather than reflexively react, by doing the following:
Consider the leader you would like to be: Think about the person you would like to be, especially in the areas in which you struggle. For instance, you might not like your tendency to become quickly frustrated in difficult situations, wanting instead to be a patient person. Take the time to develop a clear vision of this more ideal version of yourself.
Think about the meaning or origin of your reactions: There is a reason that you react as you do. It can be very helpful to understand your reactions, and perhaps even their origins. For instance, you might be impatient because you imagine failing to fix problems, and so you experience great anxiety.
Observe the outcome of your reactions: Pay close attention to the results of your reactions. By bringing negative consequences to your awareness, you will be more motivated to change your reaction to a desired response. With our example, you might note how your impatience makes it impossible for you to effectively solve problems.
Imagine a better response: Think about better ways to respond. Imagine doing them and the consequences of this. Also imagine what it would feel like to respond more in keeping with what you want for yourself. Continuing the example of a problem with impatience, you might envision yourself responding calmly to a problem and then moving on to find your way to an effective solution.
Learn a more compassionate approach to yourself: Because personal change takes effort and time to accomplish, it is important to support this process within yourself. Being critical will only undermine your efforts. So, instead, practice being understanding and patient with yourself – much as you would be supportive of a good friend who is working to develop a new skill.