In the mayhem of midlife, we often forget how much choice we have. The minute we lift our faces off the pillow, we face into a barrage of responsibility and to-do lists. We start the day already feeling like a human doing, rather than a human being. In today’s world, we often experience the paradox of choice... our brains frazzling with dazzling arrays of possibility - from which wine to what’ll I make for dinner, from clothes in shops to chaos of deciding what to wear; from which gas supplier to what gastronomy of choice of restaurant. Often I crave the simple - red or white, one pair of comfy jeans, simple suppliers, don’t you?
But in our every day, every hour behaviour we often forget we really only have one choice that matters - do I react or respond?
Often we react. Reactions are evolutionary survival quick-fix brain-hacks that suit us only in times of real danger that trigger us to fight, flight or freeze. Yet today, our busy lifestyles have created many false ‘dangers’ that trigger us in all aspects of our lives - home, relationship, work, politics. From deadlines to social media posts, from an insensitive partner to a grumpy child, from a personal problem to a global pandemic - we are constantly being triggered to react. But here’s the thing.
Our brain tricks us into reacting for short-term gain,
regardless if it causes longer-term pain.
Snap at your partner now, you’ll create an atmosphere that will impact it long after the moment is gone. Retort angrily now, your words create a lasting image of you on social media. Shut down emotionally in defence now, deny yourself the potential of growth and working it out.
So, how do we bypass reacting so that we can respond?
We take a breath (physical or mental, or both), creating a space in which to think of the best action and then respond with your higher value in mind (a loving relationship, a reasoned personality, integrity, whatever it might be.).
Reactions tend to be short term, defensive, angry, shut downs, put downs, hurtful, complaining.
Responses tend to be about working it out, understanding, building up, reasoned, explaining.
Psychologist Viktor Frankl, in his life-changing book Man’s Search for Meaning which he wrote after surviving the horrors of the holocaust, explained. “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our responses. In our responses lies our growth and our freedom.”
Remember, whatever happens today, you get to choose how to respond, how to behave, think and interpret every moment. On any given day, sometimes that is the only power we have.
I don’t believe life is about ageing gracefully. It’s about ageing powerfully.
Whatever happens today, big or small, irrelevant or seismic, dramatic or dull, scary or triggering, today is what you make it. The power is always yours.
5 tips on how to create that space