“Between stimulus and response there’s a space. In that space lies our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
— Viktor Frankl, psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor.
If you’re choosing to live on auto-pilot, maybe it’s time to go some place different.
We all have that person in our life, a partner, a friend, a boss, that are so predictable that we know what they’re going to say before they do. Their reaction to situations and events – good or bad – is inevitable. It’s what we’ve come expect from them and rarely do they let us down.
That person usually feels the same way about us.
Most of us spend the majority of our lives on auto-pilot. We live inside a comfortable routine. Not just a routine where we get up at the same time every day, drive the same path to work, and eat the same thing for lunch. Our thoughts have a routine too. When this happens we think that. When that happens we think this. It’s almost as though it’s pre-determined.
No wonder we’re bored and feel stuck in our existence.
But slipping into a routine thinking pattern that’s typical for you when the boss questions items on your expense report, your daughter doesn’t get picked for the travelling softball team, or justifying hitting the snooze instead of meeting your friend for a morning run, is not pre-destiny. It’s a habit. And it’s a habit that’s worth changing.
Living in The Space Between Stimulus and Response
The way to truly change our lives is to figure out how to live in that space that comes between stimulus and response. To do this we have to practice self-regulated thinking and train ourselves to bring our mental processes under greater voluntary control. It requires mindfulness.
Learning to be mindful isn’t a new topic for this blog. It’s one that I revisit on a regular basis because it has become a huge focus of my own life since I completed my wellness coaching certification. Through the certification process I discovered there is an undeniable connection between mindfulness and goal achievement. It is only when we get control of those random, repetitive thought patterns that we are all a victim of, that we can achieve our goals, change our behaviors and ultimately find happiness. We can’t change our lives until we change our thoughts.
You Can Be Mindful
You can train yourself to come off of auto-pilot and have fresh responses to the typical, mundane events that happen daily as well as the more extraordinary things that take place that you find yourself overreacting emotionally to.
1. Practice. The key to mindfulness is being able to recognize that space between stimulus and reaction. Each day practice being consciously aware of where that space is.
2. Choose. When you’re cut off in traffic do you usually give the perpetrator a hand signal and call them a name that starts with ‘d’ and ends with a double ‘s’? That’s a typical knee-jerk response for many of us and it’s a useless one. Practice choosing your response to stimuli in place of just reacting.
3. Self-regulate. Self-regulation comes down to four words: Be. In. The. Moment. I’ve been chosen to lead a rather significant project at work. Yesterday I had an hour long phone conference related to the project. Thirty minutes into the call my cell phone vibrated and I caught myself reaching for it to check my personal e-mail account. I’m certain there was nothing new in my Yahoo mail more important than the information being delivered on the call but I felt compelled to check it. Technology makes it hard for us to concentrate on the here and now. Instead of checking the phone every time someone sends you a tweet, ‘likes’ your Facebook status, or a junk e-mail lands in your inbox, ignore it and practice living in the moment.
3. Breath. Not only are most of our thoughts repetitive, the majority are also negative. You’ll know when you’re stuck on auto pilot because you’ll be thinking the same repetitive thoughts you think all day every day. Tune in to these thought cycles and break the chain by taking three long, deep, cleansing breaths to reset your brain. Start a new thought pattern that is focused on finding a different way to go after something.
4. Meditate. Meditation is, in itself, mindfulness training. When you meditate you’re focused only on your breathing, your muscles relaxing, imaginary waves hitting the shore. For those of us who have thoughts that skip all over the place, spending a few minutes in meditation each day trains our brain so it goes where we lead it instead of the other way around.
5. Surprise! Remember those people in your life that are expecting your same-ole-same-ole response when they ask you a question or make a suggestion they know you’re not going to like? Once you accomplish the art of mindfulness you will surprise them with a unique response that can take your relationship down a new and better path. Who knows? It may propel them into a round of their own fresh thinking.
Connect The Dots
Do you know someone who has lost weight only to gain it back, not just once, but three or four times. Each time they start on a new program they are completely motivated. They watch what they eat. They log extra workouts. They’re careful not to splurge on high calorie foods? In the beginning they lose a considerable amount of weight, almost reaching their goal. Then something happens. The motivation wanes. They’re too tired to work out. They’re justifying eating ice cream for dinner.
Because that’s what happened to them the first time they lost weight. They blew it. They tapped out. They gave up. Now the same thing is happening because they’re on auto pilot. They are thinking the same repetitive, negative thoughts they did at this point the first, second and third time around. They want to stick with it but they’re unable to recognize that sweet space between stimulus and response.
It’s not only a problem with weight-loss strategies. Maybe you’re a relationship sabotager. Or is it your career that’s floundering? It may be that you’re on auto-pilot and don’t realize that you have the power to choose a different, more positive way of responding to your surroundings. Viktor Frankl said it so well. That choice is where growth and freedom lies.
Are you choosing your responses to events and situations or are you travelling through life on auto-pilot?
Be Social! Share!