Creating the gap between stimulus and response
I have been extremely fortunate and privileged to work with many people this week in helping them see, and then cultivate the gap between stimulus and response.
Viktor Frankl spoke of this idea that between stimulus and response there is a gap, a space, and that if we can become aware and cultivate presence in the gap, we can take charge of our responses in a way that is going to lead to our happiness and feelings of being in control.
With practice, over time, we can develop this gap to the point where we are consciously controlling our thoughts, feelings, and actions, with a real awareness of choice, rather than feeling out of control, or at the mercy of our emotions, which are being triggered by external sources.
This is what Carl Jung was talking about when he spoke of one of the biggest challenges to face our society being the failure to mature emotionally. It is certainly my experience that many of my clients feel like they are acting with emotional immaturity.
The gap is there, it just may not feel like it, especially in emotional or stressful situations where we may feel the anger or fear, or sadness or guilt feeling rising up and very quickly find ourselves acting in a way that we later come to regret.
This space between stimulus and response is easiest to cultivate, and become aware of with proactive practice in the present moment. What is described as being present, or mindful of this moment, rather than living in the future (fear, worry) or the past (anger, guilt or sadness) in our imaginations.
Here is a very helpful way to learn to connect to what is around you, and if it is practiced seriously, can make transformative, feeling level changes very quickly.
Every hour, in response to a reminder on your phone or device do the following for just a moment:
S - Stop for a moment whatever you are doing in your mind
T - Take a deep breath (this practice can develop powerful parasympathetic nervous system responses immediately if done effectively)
O - Observe something in detail, pay attention to the moment (again, depth of understanding of how to do this effectively is key)
P - Proceed with a real feeling of gratitude (not at a conscious level, you will feel gratitude and joy if you are doing it properly)
If this practice of living in the moment, and being mindful is cultivated proactively, you can then apply it to emotional or stressful situations and become effective at controlling them in the gap between stimulus and response.
This is the first step, and clearly can be strengthened and developed with formal and informal meditation practice.