Do You React or Do You Respond to Triggers?

Blog Post created by Thomas3.20.2010 on Mar 2, 2014

“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.”   -Victor Frankl

I have great respect for Victor Frankl. He was not only a concentration camp survivor during the Holocaust, but also someone who went on to help others find goodness and meaning in life. He was a man from whom we can learn something about what it means to be human and how to be our best – sometimes in spite of our inclinations. And the above quote is incredibly wise guidance in these very areas. 

In it, he implies that people often react without thinking.  We frequently don’t choose our behaviors so much as just act them out. But he observes that we don’t need to accept such reflexive reactions. Instead, we can learn to notice that there is a “space” before we react. He suggests that we can grow and change and be different if we can learn to recognize, increase, and make use of this ‘space.’ With such awareness, we can find freedom from the dictates of both external and internal pressures. And with that, we can find inner happiness.

Victor Frankl was clearly an extraordinary man. Most of us can only wish for his moral strength, insight, and wisdom. But we can follow his lead by looking for the ‘space’ in our own lives. When faced with situations that pull for some particular reaction, we can choose to respond instead. Nothing I can think of is more pulling than Addictive Cravings.

 Frankl found his ‘space’ through finding meaning. Others find it through prayer, meditation, or self reflection.

If you struggle with cravings consider finding your ‘space’ to respond, rather than reflexively react, by doing the following:

Consider the person you would like to be: Think about the person you would like to be, especially take the time to imagine YOU Non-Smoker. For instance, you might not like your tendency to become quickly frustrated in difficult situations, wanting instead to be a patient person. Take the time to develop a clear vision of this more ideal version of yourself.

Think about the meaning or origin of your reactions: There is a reason that you react as you do. It can be very helpful to understand your reactions, and perhaps even their origins. For instance, when you feel stress you have a core belief that smoking relieves it so you feel compelled to smoke. You might also realize that you reward yourself after completing a difficult task by smoking.

Observe the outcome of your reactions: Pay close attention to the results of your reactions. By bringing negative consequences to your awareness, you will be more motivated to change your reaction to a desired response. With our example, you might just discover that rather than relieve stress, smoking creates even more stress by procrastinating or by worries about your health.

Imagine a better response: Think about better ways to respond. Imagine doing them and the consequences of this. Also imagine what it would feel like to respond more in keeping with what you want for yourself.  Continuing the example of smoking at your stress, you might envision yourself responding calmly to a problem and then moving on to find your way to an effective solution.

Learn a more compassionate approach to yourself: Because personal change takes effort and time to accomplish, it is important to support this process within yourself. Being critical will only undermine your efforts. So, instead, practice being understanding and patient with yourself – much as you would be supportive of a good friend who is working to develop a new skill.