A PLACE FOR GOOD
A PLACE FOR GOOD
Controlling the Gap
Written by David Press on August 31, 2020
Many years ago, I read a statement in a self-help book that said something about “controlling the gap between the stimulus and the response” being one of the keys to happiness. I gave this a lot of thought and realized that it was one of my biggest problems. I tended to “react” quickly to almost everything, often without giving much if any thought to why. Why did that particular stimulus produce such an emotional reaction? It explained why I had a tendency to interrupt people during conversation. It explained why I had gotten into fights as a kid and threw plates and punched walls as an adult. And it explains why I have had so many jobs in my life.
These things are difficult to admit publicly, but they are true. I am now almost 58 years old, and I have gotten much better at most of this. I am far from perfect. I still interrupt sometimes, but I try not to. I can still lose my temper, but it takes a lot to make that happen now. Not perfect. Nobody is. But I am more aware. More aware of why certain “stimuli” evoke such a gut “response” in me. But I have learned how to be better at “controlling the gap between the stimulus and the response” and that comes from being aware and considering the outcome of my reactions.
When my children were younger and something occurred that would result in them being grounded, I always took them through the same exercise. I will give you an example. My son had been grounded by his mother because he said something that was disrespectful to her. I asked him why he said that and his response was “she made me mad.” I asked what she did to upset him so much. “She wouldn’t let me go over to my friends house.” I asked why she wouldn’t let him go and he replied “because I didn’t clean my room.” I asked why he didn’t clean his room and he said “because I wanted to watch tv instead.”
So here comes the simple lesson in this story. I asked him if he realized that he actually had chosen to punish himself. He didn’t understand. I asked him what would have happened if he wouldn’t have disrespected his mom. “I still wouldn’t have been allowed to go to my friends house.” I told him that was true, but he wouldn’t be grounded. Then I asked what would have happened if he had just cleaned his room like he was supposed to rather than watching tv. And he thought about it for a minute, “I guess mom would have let me go and I would have never yelled at her.” So you understand that you were in control of the outcome right? You could have avoided all of this be just cleaning your room.
But now let’s look at what else you could have done. Let’s say you didn’t clean your room and when you asked to go over to your friend’s house and mom said no, you could have calmly asked her why not rather than yelling at her. If you had done that, what do you think would have happened? “She would have said I could after I cleaned my room.” Ok, so you would have had another opportunity to get what you wanted. Do you see that? He said that he understood. I asked him if he knew what was going to happen when he yelled at him mother? (it wasn’t the first time) He just gave me a look. So if you could have controlled your response you wouldn’t be grounded. “But I was mad” he said. That is called the “stimulus” the thing that happened that made you want to respond. And you yelling at your mother was your “response”. How long after she said no did it take before you yelled at her? “Pretty quick” he admitted. Was it five seconds, ten seconds? “Probably more like two” he said quickly. What if you could have turned that two seconds into ten I asked him. “What difference would that make?” he asked me. During that ten seconds you could have had a chance to realize what would happen if you acted on your impulse to yell at your mom and chosen not to do that. “So I guess it’s all my fault?” It isn’t about fault, it is about taking responsibility for your action, let me say it again “your action”. Understanding the cause and the effect. Controlling the gap between the stimulus and the responses. Do you understand?
Now there will be times in your life that you choose to stand up for your feelings and act on them. But you will do it knowing that you are willing to accept the outcome. Sometimes the outcome will not be fair. Sometimes it will be. But you made the choice to go down that path.
That lesson was given to my son many years ago now, but I started thinking about it and thought it was appropriate for many things that are happening in the world today. Nobody is perfect. We all make mistakes. We all react emotionally at times. Try and slow the process just enough to be sure that your response is well thought out and you have considered the potential outcomes. Are you willing to accept the results of your actions?
Discriminating against someone or a group will undoubtedly evoke a response. Calling someone a racist will too. Burning down buildings out of anger will obviously have consequences, most likely for many. Breaking the law should have consequences. Disobeying the direct orders of the police should have them too. Doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from or what color your skin is, the consequences should be fair and equal for everyone. Punishment or consequences should be fair, but currently they are not always. We need to fix that and I want to believe we will. I know I will try to do my part. But we all must take responsibility for our own actions. Just like my son, if we all keep our room clean things will work out much better!
Now that I have finished writing this, I am going to pause and consider the effect of publicly publishing it. I do not consider this to be a political statement. I am not trying to place blame. I am just wanting to share a lesson that has helped me and I hope it might help others. But I am sure the action of putting this message “out there” will result in some negative response. It might hurt my business. It might offend people in some way. I could lose some friends. I hope not. But I am stopping this now and will not publish it until I consider all the potential outcomes. Then and only then will I act, or choose not to.