“Freedom is the ability to pause between the stimulus and the response.” Rollo May
Beware of quick fix formulas! On this we can mostly all agree.
The E + R = O (EVENT + RESPONSE = OUTCOME) formula, which we picked up on from Jack Canfield’s – The Success Principles How to Get From Where You Are to Where You Want to Be, is an effective, practical and not a quick fix tool that can help you to change the way you work – and live.
Because to use it, you have to change the way you think. Doable – yes! Easy – no!
Here’s how it works.
Defining the Event
The Event can be anything. A feeling, a co-worker’s comment, the traffic, a misunderstood email, a layoff, the weather, your partner’s behavior, anything. In other words – anything and everything that is outside of your control to change (fix, manipulate, etc).
Let’s stop right here. If you made a list of all the possibilities that can fall in that category, you’d have a huge list of most of your life’s situations and circumstances. Getting this part right is the key to using this “formula” successfully. Because on that list will many things that are VERY important to you. And because they are important to you, they have many of your values and beliefs invested in them. On this list of very important things will also be the “events” that push your buttons and really trigger you emotionally.
The key is working with your thinking. Thinking about your thinking is the first stop on this train. How do I think? When this _event_ happens – what do I typically think? What happens next? What do I feel in response to these thoughts? What do I do in reaction to these thoughts and feelings?
In many cases, you will see that your reactivity to certain “events” is part of a habituated pattern of thinking on your part. The brain likes stimulus, but it loves certainty, so habits form creating neural networks from repetitive behavior (count thought as a behavior).
There is a growing amount of research showing that when we consciously change behavioral “strategies” in our daily lives, we rewire the brain and establish new patterns of activity. Scientists have discovered “neuroplasticity” which quite simply is the ability to alter (positively and negatively) the neural networks in our brains.
So the big takeaway – and the most important part of your work using this formula – is to grapple with the all-important question of what you believe is in your control and what is not. When you are working with clarifying this – it is valuable to make another list while you’re at it – the what’s in my control list.
Understanding the Response
OK, now we are getting to where the action is. This is where you get to make choices – and more choices, sometimes minute by minute, about how you want to RESPOND to life’s events. This is not about how you responded in the past (though that might be constructive information) it’s about how you CHOOSE to respond in the moment or in the future. This is your choice point.
Regardless of what unfolds in life’s events (and sometimes this can be very challenging process) you get to choose how you are going to respond. You are in the driver’s seat. You have the freedom to choose.
There are three components to your response – your thoughts, your emotions and your behavior. Too often we start by trying to change our behavior first before we have gotten our thinking process lined up. Understanding your common emotional triggers can give you a blueprint for how you typically respond to certain events.
What’s also important to understand about your response – (root of word – responsibility) is that you are 100% willing to take response-ability for your response. For many of us, that can be a real challenge.
The ego will often kick up a fuss if you start taking too much responsibility. It can backlash with thoughts and old beliefs like, “Why should I have to always be the one who changes?” “Life’s dealt me a very hard blow and I am entitled to be depressed.” “This is completely unfair (and it might be) why should I act fairly in response?”
See this simple little formula packs a punch. To implement it successfully, you have to do a completely honest self-assessment, reappraise your beliefs, activate your deeper values and access feelings that enable you to respond differently like: empathy, confidence, optimism, courage and calmness, to name a few.
We use this formula (personally and professionally) all the time. Our clients say it can really challenge them and help them to shift their perspectives (a key to changing behavior). But sometimes they want guarantees.
“Well, I’d be willing to change my behavior if I thought it would impact the way my co-worker acts.”
“I’ll take responsibility for my actions, but how do I know that my partner will care that I’ve changed?”
Here is the real deal.
There are no guarantees. The word outcome is just a word. We can never really know what the outcome of a situation, despite our best efforts, will be. This is once again, a control issue. We can only respond to circumstances with our full self-awareness and as broad a perspective as possible as to the external factors we face.
Since we are always getting outcomes (usually without applying much conscious thought) this formula gives us, at least, a better opportunity to help shape the outcome to what we really want. The most important outcome we can ever realize in any of our responses to out-of-our control events may be the internal rewards of giving 100% of our conscious efforts.
Too many of us are spending too much time and precious energy attempting to control what is not in our control to “fix.” This is NOT to say that we shouldn’t use our wisdom and determination to positively influence the circumstances we meet that we believe need to be changed. This is our choice. But first, let’s be crystal clear about what we can actually “control” and what we cannot, how we use our energy, the effects of our impact externally – and most important – internally.
Freedom can be its own payoff.
Thanks for reading!
George Altman, Partner, Intentional Communication Consultants