“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is the power to choose, in that choice lies freedom.”
Viktor Frankl was a pioneer of the human development movement. A neurologist, psychiatrist, philosopher, and author, he was also incarcerated in a nazi concentration camp during the second world war. His most famous book ‘Mans search for meaning’ describes his experience and how he survived. The nazis in the camp could beat him, starve him, put him to backbreaking and soul-destroying work, shame him, but they could not make him hate them. “I will not hate you; you cannot make me hate you,” he described. Here was the ultimate demonstration of freedom of will and will to meaning in the appalling environments—a supreme demonstration of responsibility, more like response-ability.
In these next few moments, I want you to realise your four powers and how you can exercise authority in them. The purpose? We are meaning-makers, so far better to make meanings that serve you, your health, performance, and relationships rather than those which don’t. Whatever the external stimulus may be. Who is this for? Everybody, but especially for those in testing lockdown conditions at home—athletes who cannot train and racing drivers with seasons still up in the air. No matter what is happening out there, don’t give your power, choice, and freedom away. Viktor Frankl didn’t and whether you choose to believe it or not, you can too. This is how:
THINK (Internal Power)
Whatever is happening out there, i.e. in reality, it is not responsible for what is happening in there – in mind. An external event will trigger movie/pictures in mind based on past references or future expectations. The external event is not responsible because we seldom deal with the event. We deal with our interpretation of that event, our perception. This is our entire delight and suffering as a human being. When we remain present, we can’t get caught up in the movies we play. So how to stay present when the proverbial hits the fan? As much as you would rather it didn’t, bad stuff will happen. All you can do is change the meaning you associate with that event. Change the meaning, and you change the movie.
A scenario from Formula 1: A driver arrives at a race weekend where he’s had two crashes the previous seasons. Before he even steps foot in the car, the media and whispers have been about how it’s not the right track for him; he needs to change something to ensure he has a clean race. Movie 1 – I have an aggressive driving style; this means I’m not suited to the track; maybe they are right, and I will always have problems at this track; just look at the last two seasons as proof! Cue the feelings that stem from this thinking? Movie 2 – My aggressive driving style has got me to where I am and has served me far better than it has harmed me. Last two years, I made a mistake. For me, this is mi-stake in the ground of where my current learning of this track is. Now I am more advance, and those experiences will now enable my resilience this weekend. Cue the emotions from this movie mind.
This is more than just plucky positive attitude stuff or glass half full mindset when the glass may indeed be lying smashed on the floor. It is taking responsibility for our subjective experience. Choose your meaning – choose your movie.
FEEL (Internal Power)
How you feel about something is entirely within your power—thinking influences the mind, body, emotional energy. Our state. Happy, mad, glad, sad come all come from thinking. As mentioned, if we want to choose a different emotion, change the movie’s meaning, step 1. Step 2 is welcoming in the emotion that serves us better. Do you have permission to feel a certain way in a given context? If not, why not? Who took that permission away from you? Allow yourself to embody a more resourceful emotion, recognise the shift in state. Trying on a different emotion from the subsequent improved movie you play in mind may also be helped by the following:
Suppose we take an everyday example. Who has suffered from occasional road rage, cursing when someone cuts you up? How about finding yourself getting wound up when standing in an airport queue? I know I have. This queue is pissing me off! Why is that person driving like that? It makes me so angry! If we feel mad from waiting in a line or somebody else’s bad decision making, we are then allowing them to run our brain, to run our movies. In a competitive environment like elite sport or pushing for a promotion at work, if others can take your power and I know how to run your brain, you become easy to manage!
We can also shift state very quickly with our breath. Two minutes of Box breathing https://youtu.be/muahtBRDac8 has been shown to improve emotional reactivity. A more resourceful state is also the foundation for higher quality communication.
SPEAK (External Power)
Shifting down the configuration, we then communicate verbally and non-verbally through our physiology. We communicate from the state we are in to the state others are in. We can change our states through our thoughts (movie mind) and physiology (breathing). As we do this from state to state, our communication is filtered by our values and beliefs, understandings, knowledge, history and memories and sense of self (identity). That’s why we sometimes assume what the other person has heard. Therefore ‘the meaning of our communication is the response we get’. Listening and supporting makes communication safe. Without safety, it can become stressed and defensive. Changing the meaning we attribute to our thoughts will make it far more likely to gain rapport. In rapport, we will match another person’s values, physiology, beliefs, i.e. their map of the world, at which point, resistance will melt away.
MOVE (External Power)
Think, feel, speak then drives our actions and behaviours. The question here is do we respond or react. In the introduction to this text, I mentioned response-ability. Our ability to respond involves choice, much like Frankl discusses. This response is from the present, mature version of you. However, when we react, we are re-enacting a former behaviour a prior less mature version run by child-like belief structures. Think Zinedine Zidan in the Fifa World cup final against Italy getting a red car for losing his cool.
They are your four powers. They are all you are responsible for—nothing else. You will undoubtedly be responsible or responsive ‘to’ things and people but not ‘for’ them. How can you be? Its a problematic but essential distinction. I am responsible as in responsive and present to my sales targets. I am responsible to my team. I am responsible to my boss, to my partner!
This delineation between responsibility to and for is our sanity line.
Viktor Frankl said between stimulus and response there is space. In that space, there is freedom. I would say in that space is our “about”. Our ‘about’ what just happened. Our perception, our meaning. It is within that space where our freedom lies. Our power to realise our sanity and become fully response-able for our think, feel, speak and move.
Yours with Force and Grace