When split-second responses and quick reflexes are bad
By John Morrison on Nov 25, 2007
A lot has been written about on this topic and i'm trying to hopefully pique your interest just enough for you to pause and consider this if you have not given it much thought lately !
We all have a lot of choice and its just that we either are not aware of the choice we have or we don't choose to exercise the choice we have, which in itself represents a choice - the choice to not choose, oftentimes made at an unconscious level. As Deepak Chopra says, "You and I are essentially infinite choice-makers. In every moment of our existence, we are in that field of all possibilities where we have access to an infinity of choices."
To clarify the subject of this post - its about highlighting the "choice" each of us has in each of life's circumstances; the fundamental fact remains that - between stimulus and response, there's a gap. How big is the gap ? This would depend on your levels of awareness and consciousness. You can actually change the size of the gap, not in terms of units of time we know of but in a non-linear way we can enhance our abilities to recognize our choices and make the most apt response to any given stimulus. Why is this gap important ? The gap between stimulus and response provides us an opportunity to choose how we react to stimulus rather than merely go with the default behavioral response which in hindsight generally tends to not be the most appropriate choice.
An example might illustrate this better. Lets assume you are driving in rush-hour traffic and someone on the road does something that has the potential to provoke your anger. This is the stimulus. Your natural response could probably include giving him a piece of your mind garnished with some choice unprintable vocabulary or any of the other equally "effective" outlets to let the steam out. And all of this could happen extremely quick. Reaction times could probably be in the fractions of a second. Talk of quick reflexes and you see it in action in such situations ! Is there a gap here ? Yes, there's a gap in every situation. The first step is to be aware that the gap exists. Realizing that stimulus and response are not a continuous progression and there in fact exists a break between the two, in itself is a great beginning. Next, choose to pause for a moment to examine your choices in responses to the stimulus. Rather than quickly brand the cause of the stimulus as an evolutionary mistake, what if you stop to consider if this stimulus is really important enough to expend your "valuable" time and energy to; does it warrant your attention and mind space (yes, it can occupy a lot of your mental band width ... only if you let it) ? what if you tried to examine if the stimulus was indeed a response to some-other situation which you were not immediately aware of ... say a medical emergency that required a little flexing of road rules ?
Such stimuli abound in various situations where without realization of the existence of a gap, our responses tend to usually be the naturally triggered and often-times "involuntary" types which as stated earlier may not be the best. So, is it really an easy task to be aware of the gap and "choose" a response to the variety of stimuli that we each encounter every day ? Frankly, No. While its easier said than done, whats important is that this is a "skill" that can be developed, over time with a good amount of regular practice. Being aware of the existence of a gap and your reactions is a good step to take.
While on the subject of choices, here's a good Innerspace quote "If your days seem filled with unwanted negative feelings, there is only one cure. When they come, choose them. Dont ask why, dont wonder how, dont fight them and never put yourself down for having them. But most of all never blame someone else for how you feel. If you do, it means you are still fast asleep and your choice is to be a victim. When the feelings come, even big disturbing emotional feelings say, "I choose this feeling" and know it comes because of something you have thought or done in the past, perhaps a certain belief that you have learned or an attachment that is threatened. Choice does not mean you want the feelings, but it does mean you are taking responsibility for them. And that is the beginning of self mastery. It is the first step to the healing and resolving of your emotions. But only the first step. Try this today and then ask yourself what the next step might be. If you are really interested to know, you will come to know!"
For more in-depth reading on the topic of the gap between stimulus and response, i'd suggest Stephen Covey's book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and specifically, the "Be Proactive" habit. Signing off this post with a quote by Mike Dooley, "Life's not about expecting, hoping and wishing, it's about doing, being and becoming. It's about the choices you've just made, and the ones you're about to make, it's about the things you choose to say - today. It's about what you're gonna do after you finish reading this."