Stimulus Moment Response

Almost 4 years ago I blogged about a conservation with Des about how lengthening the time between stimulus and response will improve the quality of your decisions. By allowing time for any emotional reaction to subside, you will be able to think more logically. It makes a lot more sense to me now than it did then because I’ve become better at lengthening the time between stimulus and response in a number of situations. But it has taken a long time to get to about 95%.

I haven’t been able to stop the internal emotional response completely but becoming aware that it has happened has been extremely helpful in stopping me from doing anything that will keep it going longer than it needs to. When I feel the emotion building I’ll breath and try to clear my head. If it continues to build, I quickly ask myself if I care about what has happened that is causing the emotion, if I need to indulge the emotion and if so, when does that need to happen.

A couple of examples:

Someone cuts me off in traffic. Think “bastard”. Then “don’t do anything, don’t beep, don’t yell, don’t give them the finger or look at them”. Then “I don’t know them, this isn’t important.” Then I allow distance to build between our two cars. Done.

Break-up with Rachel – this was longer lasting in that thoughts of the subject would pop into my head a lot at the beginning; each one representing a stimulus that required addressing. Think “oh my God, I’m so sad”. Then “this will fade with time, but right now it isn’t going away”. Then “does what I’m doing right now (my engagement of the environment) require that I be completely present or can I step away from everything to indulge the feelings of sadness and loss?” Then I either reengage the present situation or indulge the emotion.

One of the key differences now is that I often don’t act. I won’t broadcast anything to the world until I know for sure what it is that I need to do. I now realize that I can’t do anything to completely stop the emotional reaction as it starts (given that it is based on past experiences). I can however begin to shape how and when they are expressed by changing my reaction to the current one.

Lengthening the time between stimulus and response is a challenge. I’ve been at it for 4 years and I’m still struggling with it. However, you can eliminate much of the damage that emotional actions will have on your life simply by not doing anything until you are sure you know how you need to act.