The Pause between Stimulus and Response

Have you ever reacted to something someone has said and almost immediately regretted it? I think we’ve all been there, and the consequences can be harsh. But there is a way to avoid it. I call it the pause between stimulus and response.

Stephen Covey quotes Victor Frankl in The 8th Habit that ‘Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space lies our freedom and power to choose our response. In those choices lie our growth and our happiness’.

This pause or space is a period of time that you allow yourself a space to reflect before you answer or respond. It may only be a few seconds. It could be longer. Some say it should be one that’s socially acceptable in the realms of normal conversation. I say it could even be longer. Perhaps saved for another day. Sometimes silence can be your friend.

By pausing and allowing that space, you give yourself more time to ‘respond’ rather than ‘react’. Reacting utilises the bottom part of our brains, the basic part, often called the reptilian part. It is the part that utilises basic functions like Do I need to eat? Do I need to sleep? Do I need to procreate? Or the fight or flight part of our brains that tells us to either run away from a sabre tooth tiger or fight to defend our cave from invading parties. But we as evolved beings are smarter than that. The front part of our brains is what separates us from the beasts. This is the part of the brain that has the ability to respond, rather than react. This is the part of the brain that wants to ask you ‘is there another way I can respond to this situation?’ or ‘What outcome do I want from this?’

This pause will lead you to select another response, a better one that aligns with the outcome you desire. In that moment, you have moved from a restrictive, defensive mindset with a narrow, ego based focus to a learning mindset. One that is open to new possibilities.  By simply prolonging the moment between stimulus and response, you have subtlely changed your behaviour and ensured you remain at Cause, rather than Effect (see previous post).

This is a skill you can master, by simply allowing some time between something happening , whether it be an angry co worker or boss, and your response (rather than reaction).  This will result in a more positive and constructive outcome. For everyone.

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