Growth and Freedom

I read this powerful quote. It is often attributed to Viktor Frankl, but it is actually from an unknown source. I just had to share it.

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

Let’s break it down…

A stimulus is anything that happens - a traffic jam, an unexpected visit from your most annoying neighbours, a snowstorm, lost keys, a rip in your new pants. It is something that triggers or stimulates you.

A “response” is not necessarily only your behavioural or external response to the stimulus - yelling, throwing or breaking something, giving someone the finger, walking away, throat-punching the person - but also (and, in my opinion, more importantly) includes your emotional or internal response - anger, irritation, fear, embarrassment, etc.

This “space” between the stimulus and response is loaded with opportunity. It is filled with choices. This space is akin to the pick-a-path-type novels you might have read when you were younger and now you’ve come to a point in the story you get to choose what happens next.

For example, you have a party to go to and you were planning to wear your brand new, super comfy jeans. Now, you see that you actually bought them with a small but noticeable hole in the pant-leg. What do you do? a) Have an epic meltdown featuring you, red-faced, screaming at your spouse, your kids, or at the walls, or at life, frantically throwing clothing on the floor looking for alternative attire, b) Get anger and swear, c) Cry, d) Feel disappointed, make plans to return the pants, and find something different to wear, e) Brush it off as “no big deal” and wear the jeans anyway.

Whichever “path” you choose, it is done in that space of time between the stimulus and response. Sometimes, you will not be aware of this space and you will almost always choose the same (probably ineffective) response to any stimulus, out of habit, like not really making a choice because it seemed like there was only one option. But, you can expand this space, this window of opportunity by being more aware, more conscious of life and its events. You can “take a step back” and observe your options. When you can see your response options and then make your choice, you are exercising your power to choose your response in that moment, instead of letting habitual choice patterns take over.

Growth. What is growth? It is the process of developing or maturing physically, mentally, or spiritually. How does your response to a stimulus help you grow? Well, you grow in whatever you practice, over and over. If you want to become physically stronger, you practice lifting weights. If you want to become a kind and patient person, you practice kindness and patience in your responses. If you want to become a drama lama, you practice overdramatizing your responses. Your repeated chosen responses give you opportunity to practice to become the person you say you want to be.

Freedom. When you only have one choice, does that seem like freedom to you? When you can recognize your options in how to respond, you have more than one choice. It is your response habits (the way you typically respond to stimulus) and your lack of awareness of said habits that keep you trapped, limited, not free, believing that there is only one option and therefore you don’t even realize that there is a space for choice. This freedom mentioned in the quote is freedom from habits; it is freedom from ourselves.

After this discussion, do you read this quote differently?

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom."

Here’s to conquering stress.

With heart,

The Stress Experts

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