Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.
Viktor E. Frankl
Perhaps you’ve had these kinds of experience:
- Your manager gets an expression on their face that makes you feel like a child waiting for a scolding.
- Someone speaks to you in a particular tone of voice and before you know it you are feeling angry.
- You hear someone’s name mentioned and your heart sinks.
These reactions are instantaneous, one moment you think or feel one way, then in the space of a few seconds you are thinking and feeling something completely different.
We all have reactions.
Some of them are pleasant, we hear a child laugh and we smile.
Some of them are not so pleasant and even less useful. With a single word, gesture or expression someone can trigger a negative and stressful experience in us.
It’s not our fault that we have these reactions. As we are growing up we spend a lot of time learning to respond to what is going on around us with our family, friends and society at large.
In the last century Pavlov performed some experiments with dogs in which they learned to associate the sound of a bell with feeding time, after a little training the dogs could be made to salivate just hearing the sound of the bell. They had an instantaneous and unconscious response to the sound of the bell.
Our mouths may not water when we hear a bell, but we have probably accumulated many conditioned responses over the course of our lives.
These reactions (conditioned responses) are a natural part of the way our nervous systems work. They are a simple learning strategy with advantages and disadvantages.