Des once told me that there is a moment between stimulus and response and how we use that moment will determine what type of people we are and the quality of choices that we make. He said that once you realize that there is a period of time, you can then work to expand it and make more logical decisions instead of emotional reactions. That was a few years ago. It made logical sense at the time but it making practical sense has been long time in coming.
Well, yesterday I caught myself almost getting angry and in the moment when I realized the rage was building, I stopped and asked myself the question “why are you getting angry about this?” I was boiling water for tea and left the kettle in the kitchen. When I came back a few minutes later, I didn’t realize that someone had used the water and just turned the kettle on again to make sure the water was hot. If you didn’t know, it’s better for kettles if they have water in them when they are on. Nothing bad happened but I was told that you need to make sure there is water in the kettle before you turn it on.
I don’t know why, but having someone tell me this really got under my skin. It bothered me so much that I actually took the moment to try and figure out why it bothered me. My internal reaction was so strong that my initial guess what that I felt that someone was attacking me personally and unjustly. I asked myself what I was afraid of and why the words “you need to run it with water in it because it’ll break otherwise” caused such a visceral response. As I talked myself through it I realized that my interpretation of the sentence was what was causing the problem. I heard a lot of stuff that wasn’t said and I had started to react to that. I made assumptions about what the person was implying and didn’t stick with just the facts.
The fact was, I ran the kettle with very little water in it and that will ruin a kettle.
What I took out of the comment “you need to run it with water in it because it’ll break otherwise” was a negative value judgement about me and my intelligence. The person was saying that I didn’t know how to use a kettle, that I was too stupid to figure it out and that I always did that type of thing. I don’t think my response would have been out of line if I had actually been told that I was stupid but, that wasn’t what was said. The other person stated a fact because they saw me doing something that didn’t make any sense. Which is fair because they hadn’t seen the other person slip in and use the water while I was out of the room.
What was odd about yesterday was how quickly I stopped the anger from building and tracked down its source. Normally the reaction takes hold and I’m left to let it run its course, only to figure it out later. This time I KNEW the rage feeling wasn’t appropriate so I checked out of the process and took a moment to identify what I was feeling, why I usually feel that way and how I took what was said to me as I did.
It was kind of cool because I stopped the emotional reaction dead in its tracks. It’s one of the first times that I’ve been able to grab hold of it mid process, engage it and take corrective actions to stop it from continuing. I’m also very happy to have identified my reactive tendency towards taking neutral comments as criticisms. Taken together, it’s a big step forward in my awareness of what is going on unconsciously in my brain.
Des was right about the existence of that moment of time, now I start to work on lengthening it.