Between Stimulus and Response
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
You have no control over some of the suffering you will experience. The only suffering you can control is the suffering that you cause. Avoidable suffering results from interpreting the things that happen from the perspective of a pathogenic belief - that is, reacting as if the belief were true.
The mind is constantly generating thoughts, appraisals, and opinions. Much of this "thinking" is shallow and of poor quality. You are likely to see examples of these automatic thought processes in the middle column of the Thought Record. Typically the beliefs that provoke self-sabotaging reactions are primitive and may have been distorting your interpretations since childhood. In fact, these interpretations have become so familiar that they are tacitly accepted as valid until you put out the effort to examine the assumptions underlying a self-sabotaging emotional reaction by completing a Thought Record.
The key to escaping recursive traps is understanding that your interpretations, no matter how certain of them you may feel, are just creations of your nervous system, not objective facts. This is such an important understanding that it has a name, Meta-Cognitive Awareness, and is the focus of this section.
An important and intended byproduct of using the the Thought Record is that it forces you to examine your interpretations from the perspective of a dispassionate observer. When you do, it becomes clear that your beliefs and the emotional reactions they elicit are not part of the external world, but creations of a consciousness with a particular conditioning history.
The world is more complex and fine-grained than we can process completely. The rules of thumb we use to help make sense of all the information we receive does not provide a complete and accurate description of the objective world. The Soul Illusion results from assuming that your imperfect representation of the objective world is complete and valid.
Trying On Different Perspectives
As you explore your emotional reactions to the things that happen you are likely to discover that your interpretation of the antecedent event is an important determinant of your reactions. For example, overly self-critical perspectives tend to promote emotional reactions that impair subsequent performance. To weaken or eliminate handicapping beliefs, consider these questions:
If a friend had this thought what would I tell him?
If friend knew I was thinking this thought, what would she say to me? What evidence might she show me that it was not true?
When I am not feeling this way, how do I think about this type of situation?
What have I learned from previous exposures to this type of situation that can help me now?
Five years from now, how will I look at this situation?
Am I jumping to conclusions that are not justified by evidence?
- Am I blaming myself for something I have no control over?
Perhaps you can recall a time when you accepted a premise that turned out to be false, or were taken in by an illusionist or salesman, and were surprised when events played out differently than you expected. Your tacit acceptance of a false belief made you vulnerable to being taken in by the illusionist.
There is insufficient time or cognitive resources to vet every belief. However, those beliefs and perspective that contribute to self-sabotaging emotional reactions are worthy of research. Doing this personal research forces you to shift from the associative perspective of the person experiencing a sequence of external events and internal states to the dissociative perspective of a rational observer who is trying to understand the patterns of cause-and-effect [and has no interest in assigning blame or shame].
When attempting to cope with a provocative event you are not aware of the cause-and-effect principles that determine how you react to it. From the associative perspective of the actor you are experiencing the here and now, and have more urgent targets for your attention than speculating about the actual causes of your emotional reaction.
A second perspective emerges when you complete a Thought Record. The exercise forces you to shift to a perspective that permits the examination of cause and effect. The understandings that emerge from this dissociative perspective are available to the puppy-trainer , but not to the puppy.
A third perspective is likely to emerge after you have done several thought records, and have become familiar with the process of dispassionately observing how you interpret antecedent events and thereby turn them into consequent emotional states, you will be able to consider different perspectives without reifying any of them as the only valid one.
From this Meta-Cognitive perspective you may develop some compassion for the creature you inhabit that is bound by the laws of cause-and-effect to react as it does. Happily, this understanding is the key to exercising your will to promote a more advantageous path.