16 notes on responses –
1. An immediate response to a situation is a reaction. A response, on the other hand, is a reaction after some thought and consideration. This ability to find space between a situation and a response is what Stephen Covey described as “being proactive.” It is an important part of what makes us human. We have the freedom to choose.
2. Anything that affects us is our problem. And, if it is our problem, it is our responsibility to choose a response.
3. Is there ever a right response to a problem? I don’t think so. There is, however, a “best case” response to a problem for a particular person. Different situations affect people in different ways. I have been in situations where others’ responses made no sense to me. But, I’ve been in just as many situations where I could see that my response to a situation made no sense to others. Our past experiences play a big role in our reactions. So, it is often hard to predict the results of the reaction unless you’ve seen someone (or yourself) react to something similar before.
4. More often than not, a “best case” response involves proper deliberation and a measured, non-attached response.
5. A non-attached response isn’t the same as one without emotion. Non-attachment involves emotion involved in the process – in dealing with the situation, weighing the process and picking what feels like the best outcome. It just means we don’t attach any emotion on the result of our actions.
6. There is no point judging our responses to a situation. Asking “why do I feel this way?” or saying “I should not be feeling this way” are just ways of denying how we feel. The first step to solving any problem is to accept it. And, denial of any sort gets in the way of acceptance.
7. The DABDA framework for dealing with our emotions is pretty powerful. DABDA describes the 5 stages of coping with something difficult – denial, anger, bargaining with ourselves, depression, acceptance. It has its issues. For example, any response could be described as denial. But, limitations aside, it does a good job on walking us through the process.
8. As humans, we care about resolving situations. Uncertainty messes with our psyche. That’s why learning to respond in a measured manner involves learning some very powerful life lessons. It teaches us to be patient by demanding it of us.
9. Emotional reactions to tough situations can work. But, they rarely do. There is a lot of power in controlled emotion. But, the key word there is controlled.
10. A fantastic response that I’ve seen work in most situations is to find humor in them – especially the kind that involves taking yourself less seriously. In the book “The Art of Possibility,” the authors call it “Rule No.6 – Don’t take yourself so damn seriously.” That said, humor only comes naturally to few people. For the rest of us, it is hard work. 🙂
11. There are alternate ways to diffuse the tension of course. Another is to simply treat every system as a game and to focus on simply gaming the system. This is less about humor and more about making solving problems fun. Having difficulty getting your kid to eat vegetables? See if you can make it into a game where you try multiple approaches until you solve the problem.
12. The other side of all this is to pick a very small list of things that you seek to maximize. Of course, this is easier said than done and it comes a lot easier to some than others. The important thing isn’t the method. There is enough choice out there for us to pick one that suits our style. The important thing is to pick.
13. Related to not judging ourselves, the worst thing we can do is be harsh to ourselves when we are experiencing emotions. This generally leads to a bad cycle of guilt and shame that lead absolutely nowhere. Reflecting on our reactions generally sucks. We always learn something less flattering about ourselves. We have to learn to reflect without judgment. And, the way to do that is to focus on what we are learning about ourselves and our quirks.
14. The hardest thing about responding well to situation is keeping perspective. If you are reading this, it is likely that most problems you face are variants of first world problems. That doesn’t mean they need to be discounted. Anything that effects us is a problem after all. We just need to remember that we have far fewer excuses to be unhappy. We don’t really know what difficult is.
15. There is no replacement for thoughtfulness. This isn’t limited to responses alone, of course. Also, a tool to aid thought is writing. When in difficulty, write things down. It helps clarify our thinking.
16. Watching ourselves respond to situations is a fantastic learning experience. I had a recent situation where I definitely was making a mountain out a molehill. And, I soon realized that the problem was the not the situation but my reaction to it. And, being upset with myself wasn’t going to solve. Instead, I learnt that the intensity of my reaction was a reflection of how much I cared. Now, I just needed to design a thoughtful, constructive response. And, I was glad for the ability to put all this thought about responses into a tiny situation. So much better to do it in practice versus attempting to learn it at a situation equivalent to a world cup final.
Finally and most importantly, it got me to think about 16 lessons about responses. And, for that I am grateful.