How to Place a Choice Between Stimulus & Response
For the most part, we are conditioned to respond, in stressful ways, to seemingly unpleasant events. Something pushes our button (stimulus) and we unthinkingly react (response). Somebody yells at us (stimulus), and we automatically reply with anger (response) We are next to a job interview (stimulus) and we immediately feel nervous (response).
There is a general belief that we can’t help it, that stressful things happen to us and there isn’t much we can do about it.
In-between stimulus and response is a gap in which we can choose.
We have the power to choose. We can insert any thought we want into the gap. The thought we insert into the gap can be any thought we choose. It can be any thought that doesn’t include a threat thought.No threat thought, no stress. Victor Frankl taught us this exciting truth: The one thing that can never be taken away is the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.
In any situation where the possibility of feeling stressed arises, we can immediately ask ourselves very important questions that will help us prevent the stress response from activating within our bodies.
- Am I in danger in this situation? Am I safe?
- Can I handle this situation without getting hurt or dying?
- Can I think about this differently?
The answer to the first question, 99% of the time, is no. We simply do not find ourselves in dangerous situations. We are almost always safe.
The answer to the second question, if we answered it accurately, is yes.
How do we know? Our past experience. We have most likely been through similar situations like this one and survived it just fine, without pain or dying. Why would this be any different?
The answer to the third question is yes.
Rather than responding in conditioned ways, we have the freedom of choice to insert any thought into the gap between stimulus and response. We have the power to think differently about anything.
Think about the previous month of your life—every waking moment.
Next, think back to any events that you experienced when your life was honestly in danger, or someone you were with was in danger.
Situations like having an argument with a family member or being late to work or anything of this nature are NOT life-threatening (though you may have felt stress).
You are looking only for situations that are the equivalent of a big angry bear running toward you. Then enter the number of seconds or minutes you spent in life-threatening situations in the calculator and add it all up.
For example, maybe you almost got hit by a car. The actual length of time that this took was probably 2 or 3 seconds in total.
Nothing else counts that occurred surrounding the incident as the thoughts you had as you continued walking safely on your way. Consider only the timing of the incident itself.
Next, divide the accumulated number of seconds or minutes that were truly life-threatening into the total amount of time you lived last month.
Your results will probably add up to far less than one percent. In reality, very little of our lives are spent in situations that require the stress response. We are very rarely in life-threatening situations. Now ask yourself this very important question:
If you are so infrequently in situations that are life-threatening and the stress response has only one function, which is to help you survive life-threatening situations, why would you ever feel stress?
Make a Choice
Anytime you feel an automatic reaction happening in the middle of an event or situation, catch yourself, ask yourself one of the three questions, and make a different choice about how you want to feel.