April 3, 2022: The Space Between
“Between what happens to us and our response, is a space, and the key to our growth and happiness is how we use that space”
Stephen R Covey
As a practitioner of Covey’s 7 Habits, I recently came across this quote. It deeply resonated with me, in a couple of different ways.
First, it points out the power of processing things before reacting. This week’s news was filled with the story of a famous actor who did not take time to process before reacting, and all week has been dealing with the fallout and effects. Regardless of your thoughts on this particular incident, it clearly demonstrates the power of taking time to process things, prior to reacting.
Second, my life is filled with unexpected occurrences, circumstances, and stimuli, which usually call for responses. My main career roles, that of a teacher and a writer, provide an abundance of opportunities for me to practice that processing time. Meaning there many unplanned and unexpected events that happen in my day, to which a response is required. Most times, if I forgo processing and just react, I later have regrets.
Whether it is an issue of managing negative student behavior in the classroom, dealing with a nasty parent email, receiving a critical review of one of my books, or confronting unacceptable behavior from a college students, allowing myself time to process and think about the situation before reacting is usually the difference between dealing effectively or causing the negative situation to grow and fester.
For me, the following steps help me to make use of the space to process:
o It is amazing how helpful a deep breath can be when our blood pressure is rising and our brains are muddled with emotions.
- Postpone dealing with it
o If something is highly emotional or potentially negative, it is best to not react in the moment. Do not respond to the email right away. Do not dish out the punishment to the child just yet. We need emotional perspective.
- Acknowledge the emotions this has unearthed
o Feeling helpless or vulnerable, or angry? Figure out what this situation has made you feel and why. Has it shaken your confidence? Insulted your ego? Forced you to face a mistake you made?
- Think about your ultimate goal for this situation
o Is it to save face? To explain your position? To help to teach a child how to make better choices? To salvage a relationship? To learn from it? Or just to put it behind you as quickly as possible?
After you have gone through these steps, you are ready to choose your response. Sometimes these steps can be navigated in a matter of minutes, while other times it may take hours or a day. That is the power of this space between. If you take control of it, this space can expand or contract, depending on what is needed for a specific situation.
Life is series of stimuli and reaction. Make use of the space between!