Sunday, 4 September 2011

The most important lesson in life

After my cancer diagnosis, I explored many different avenues in search of a better way of living. I learned about Buddhism, NLP, Yoga, Psychotherapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy... I found important insights and value in all these approaches. I also found a common thread in all of them. One that has had profoundly positive and transformative impact on my life. This insight has been expressed in many different ways, through many different philosophical approaches, but I believe that Stephen Covey in “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” says it best:

explore the space between stimulus and response”.

While other animals merely respond to the stimulus they receive, without reflection or self awareness, we are uniquely endowed with the human faculty of consciousness. This enables us to pause for thought. To consider the stimulus we have received, explore the options and choose a positive response that is in line with our purpose, identity and values.

When someone is mean to us, the automatic response might be to be mean back to them. But the space we uniquely occupy between the stimulus (mean behavior) and the response, enables us to explore other options. Like trying to understand where that mean behavior is coming from, and what this person is trying to tell us. Then, when we are ready to respond, we may do so in a way that entirely reframes the situation into a more positive and constructive relationship.

When the stimulus is adversity, such as cancer, we can choose to respond as a victim, or we can choose anything else that we would like to be. We can choose to respond to adversity with strength.

With practice, we can get better at creating this space. It is a liberating and powerful place to be. In fact, it is the only place to be if we want to live a meaningful life. And like all the best ideas, it can be expressed in clear, simple, concise terms:

“explore the space between stimulus and response”.