Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space lies our freedom and power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom. —Victor Frankl
Powerful, right? Although I sometimes have trouble accessing this elusive gap in time, I find this quote inspiring and motivating. It moves me to remember to literally pause when I feel my throat tighten, my heart rate escalate, and the heat rising up through my body. With practice, it IS possible to learn to notice physiological triggers and to breathe deeply into the self-created “space” that Frankl celebrates—rather than falling into my typical knee-jerk reaction.
When a person’s words or a challenging event triggers you, what happens next? Do you acknowledge your bodily response? How do you slow down the chemical surge, interrupt the narrative in your head, and gain access to reasonable next steps? How do you learn to respond rather than react?
Accept—then act. Whatever the present contains, accept it as if you have chosen it. Always work with it, not against it … This will miraculously change your whole life. —Eckhart Tolle
This quote became a mantra for me during a period of time I spent in an intensely toxic work environment. Tolle’s call to “accept” our circumstances may seem almost impossible to enact because humans are wired to respond to potential threats to our well-being. In my situation, acceptance seemed far from what should be the natural response to a difficult job situation that left me with a dark, heavy sense of dread every morning at 6 a.m. However, my ongoing resistance to the dysfunctional climate was certainly not helping either.
I found that accepting (however reluctantly) also opened my eyes to my options. I could stay; I could leave, or I could carefully devise my “Plan B.” I discovered that acceptance wasn’t really surrender or even forbearance. It prompted me to notice and explore alternatives more meaningfully and realistically—whether in my daily responses to colleagues or in the bigger picture of my career trajectory.
You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them. —Maya Angelou
As someone whose typical cognitive distortions involve “catastrophizing” (“I can’t believe this has happened!) and “personalizing” (“Is this all my fault? Did I bring this on myself?”), I appreciate being reminded that I actually don’t control everything. More importantly, Angelou’s words fuel resilience—the capacity to adapt and grow in the face of stress and trauma. When the going gets tough, there are many ways to respond and engage in what Anne Lamott calls “radical self-care.” Research-based strategies include engaging in physical exercise, reaching out for social support (online or in person), practicing mindfulness (www.mindful.org), employing strategies to foster distress tolerance (www.linehaninstitute.com), reappraising and reframing thoughts (www.beckinstitute.org), practicing self-compassion (www.self-compassion.org), and employing positive psychology practices to enhance daily well-being (www.greatergood.berkeley.edu).
No matter what daily strategy or tool you choose, the key is PRACTICING it regularly and consistently in order to capitalize on your brain’s plasticity—its ability to re-wire itself over time. Resilience is fueled by a commitment to yourself (not to be “reduced” by another person or event), but it grows and develops through the daily activities and practices you choose to put into action.