A log on fire

“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.” – Viktor Frankl Auschwitz Survivor

How do you react to people? Is it quick? Do you think about what you’re going to say before you say it? Do you overthink your responses and never really respond? After you respond, do you replay it over and over again in your head?

Most people don’t realize, don’t understand, that they can choose the way that they respond to things. They think that the way they respond is just a part of who they are. Our reactions are often trained into us, by our parents and other adults that are around us when we’re young. But as we grow up, we have more and more of a choice about how we respond; especially when we become adults.

How we react is much like lighting a fire. We can light the fire and it will be a light for us and those around us, it will warm people up (spreading positivity); or we can light the fire and it will pop, crack, and burn us and those around us (spreading negativity).

How does reacting without thinking affect us?

The way that we respond to things affects how others continue to treat us. You’ve heard the phrase, “what you allow, continues”. If someone knows that they can be rude to us and we just take it and move on, instead of insisting on respect from them, they will continue to be rude.

It causes a lot of unnecessary arguments and misunderstandings. Someone may genuinely be trying to help you, but if you constantly react by assuming that people think you’re stupid (because you think your stupid), then you’re never going to see that. You’re going to get upset because they are acting like you’re stupid, then they are going to get upset because you’re not understanding them, and down the rabbit hole we go.

(Read “Does How We Think Really Matter?” for more on this)

It affects how we view other people. If we consistently respond to someone who asks for help with, “ugh, I will, but I really don’t have time for all of this”, then when the tables are turned and we need help, we assume that others are responding that way to us. This goes for anything. If we respond in a negative way to others, we assume they will respond in a negative way when we ask the same type of question. Whereas if we react positively to people, then we see other’s as reacting positively towards us. This doesn’t mean that you always have to say yes to everything. It means that you have to think about your response and respond honestly. If someone asks you to help them move, instead of responding with an automatic yes because you feel like you have to for some reason, take time to think about whether or not you actually have the time and the desire to help them move, and then respond. If your answer is no, then say no. Be honest with yourself and be honest with them. This saves everyone heartache in the end.

It affects how we feel about ourselves. If we respond to someone with a yes every single time they ask, and we really don’t mean it, then we start to view ourselves as someone who gets walked on or taken advantage of. But, if we’re the ones saying yes (supporting how others treat us), then we’re allowing this to happen. If we allow someone to constantly be rude to us, then we can start to see ourselves as someone who doesn’t deserve kindness, or as someone who has to defend themselves.

These last two tend to be a vicious cycle. We feel bad about ourselves so we think others feel a certain way about us as well. How we respond to people is how we think they are responding to us. We get upset with them because we think they aren’t being genuine in their response. Then they do respond in a negative way because they feel like they have to defend themselves, or they take your words at face value and think you really don’t mind to do something when you say yes. Then we feel attacked and used. And we’re back to feeling bad about ourselves.

At any point on this ride, a shift in how we respond can change the whole cycle.

If we start out by doing the inner work to find why we feel the way we do about ourselves, it allows us to see that some of our thoughts are recycled over and over again, and that we can change those thoughts to make ourselves happier. If we take a minute to see why we’re responding to someone in the way that we are, we may see that our response has nothing to do with them and everything to do with us. This gives us the opportunity to get rid of some of these recycled thoughts that are causing us problems. It also allows us to change our response so that it reflects how we are truly feeling about the situation.

People may still react to you in a negative manner. Take our example of saying yes to everything: If people are used to you taking everything on, they won’t like it very much when you suddenly stop doing that. It will take them some time to adjust to this, so you might get some negativity for a while. (“3 Ways to Deal with Haters”) If you keep responding from a place of love, from a place of self-care, they will eventually either get it and adjust, or they will stop asking. The important thing to remember is that everyone is responsible for their own reactions.

What are some of your automatic responses?

Do you always say yes to people, even when you don’t want to/can’t do something?

When someone does something do you respond without asking for clarification on why they are doing it?

If someone is less than kind to you, do you take a minute to see why they are acting this way; or do you react immediately by taking it personally?

Do you automatically get mad when someone says something or makes a certain sound (huffing, breathing in sharply, clearing their throat, etc.)? Again, do you take it personally because you “know” it was directed at you? Even if you don’t express this anger, you are still putting your body through those emotions by internalizing them.

Pay attention to the things that you automatically say and do without thinking.

Pay attention to the reactions that you have without thinking. Over 90% of our thoughts are recycled each day and if we don’t work to change this then we will continue on the path that we’re on. We’ll keep wondering why things don’t ever change for us. Honor that space between stimuli and response. Use that space to think about the best way to react to your current situation.   

Here are some of our other posts that can help you change those automatic responses:

“How Does Changing Your Perspective Change You?”, “The Silent Observer”, “3 Ways to Deal with Haters”, “Does How We Think Really Matter?”