This is one of my favourite quotes of all time. I didn’t know at the time, but the meaning behind this quote would make me a better leader.
Living a Reactive Life
When I stumbled onto this quote, I was a very reactive person.
Something would happen in my environment to trigger an emotional response.
- My boss would give me feedback, and I would get defensive.
- Someone would cut me off while driving, and I would flip them the bird.
- A co-worker would do something that I didn’t agree with, and I would get upset.
My life was filled with reactive moments. Causing stress, anxiety, and anger.
Sometimes external events would trigger an emotional hijack that would cause me to stew and seethe in anger and resentment for days.
The Ah-ha Moment
When I first heard the “stimulus and response” quote, I remember thinking “what a load of crap!”
The quote actually triggered an emotional hijack within me. The quote was the stimulus and I jumped right into an emotional response.
No space. No gap. Straight into an automatic pattern of judgment, closed-mindedness, and negativity.
Then I paused, took a breath, and reread the quote.
The ah-ha moment occurred when I realized that I was actually caught up in a mini emotional hijack.
I noticed the automatic reaction.
I noticed the judgement.
I noticed the negative reaction.
I noticed the space.
The Measure of Leadership
This ah-ha moment led me on a journey to discover more.
After years of study, many hours of training, and over 500+ books, I’ve discovered the ultimate measure of leadership.
It all comes back to the quote the inspired me all those years early.
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is the power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” – Victor E. Frankl
The measure of leadership is space that you create between stimulus and response.
The ability to widen the gap between stimulus and response lays the foundation of ALL other leadership qualities.
- To stay calm under pressure – you need to widen the gap between your fight and flight response and your desired outcome.
- To inspire others to take action – you need to widen the gap between your negative judgments and staying open and curious.
- To stay true to your values – you need to widen the gap between your automatic reactions and your positive behaviours.
Where Do I Start?
While the idea of widening the gap between stimulus and response seems simple in writing, putting it into practice is the real challenge.
Luckily, we all have two natural abilities that enable our growth.
1) Be intentional
The first ability is intention.
Intention is the purpose or attitude that we direct toward our actions and behaviours. It is a concentration of mental energy that we consciously put behind a result that we want.
Begin by setting an intention at the beginning of each day to “widen the gap.”
2) Pay attention
The second ability is attention.
Attention is the concentration of the mind on a single object or thought. It is the ability to hold our awareness on a specific area of focus.
Throughout the day, notice what grabs your attention. Are you caught up in automatic response? Or perhaps in a full-blown emotional hijack?
Set a repeating alarm on your phone as a reminder to check-in.
Your ability to widen the gap between stimulus and response is the ultimate measure of leadership and lays the foundation of ALL other leadership qualities.
Begin each day by setting an intention to notice the space between stimulus and response.
Throughout the day, check-in on what is hijacking your attention.
As you repeat this process, you will discover that the space between stimulus and response will widen to the point where you will be able to choose your response.
Continued use of this simple process will lay the foundation of self-awareness, which is the skill every leader needs to master.
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