Men are disturbed not by things that happen, but by their opinion of the things that happen. -Epictetus
Between stimulus and response there is a gap. In that gap we can choose our response. This insight is from Victor Frankl’s profound little book, Man’s Search For Meaning. Frankl noticed a small number of fellow concentration camp prisoners who chose to be optimistic and encouraging in the midst of their horrifying reality. They had no control over their daily physical life, but these handful of prisoners he noticed exercised what Frankl called the “last of human freedoms”, the freedom to choose your attitude regardless of the circumstances. No one can deny you that final, ultimate freedom.
We can’t control the world and the actions of others. The weather, the traffic, the people we encounter – not in our control. We can control our own attitude and our own actions.
We all have regularly wasted too much emotion and mental energy fretting or stewing or worrying over things we can do absolutely nothing about.
What if, when I’m prone to respond with frustration or anger or anxiety, I simply chose to be curious instead.
“I wonder why that driver cut me off.”
“How interesting that it’s raining on the day of our picnic.”
“It’s fascinating that this person is angry with me. I wonder what’s at the root of their response.”
“Fascinating…” is a delightfully effective response when you’re otherwise inclined to react negatively.
We are not machines, right? No one or no thing can make you respond in a certain way. You’ve got a choice. It’s inaccurate to say “________ makes me mad.” You may choose to be mad because of ________, but it is your choice.
I know I’m choosing an unproductive response when I start feeling defensive. It’s a clear indicator I’m heading down a wrong path.
I heard someone say “Never take anything personally.” Nothing anyone does or says truly is about you, even if it seems so. Others’s actions are their own and are about them, not you.
This is not easy. We have to be mindful of how we are programmed and take control to reprogram our responses with that gap, that opportunity to choose, as the key to living a more wholehearted, mindful human life.