The difference between reacting to a problem vs responding to the same problem is the difference between suffering vs thriving.
Viktor Frankl famously said, “Between the stimulus and response, there is a space. And in that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
A reaction is typically experienced as “knee jerk.” It feels rather automatic. Almost like a reflex. When we encounter a stressor that prompts a reaction, we are usually not acting in our own best interest.
Reactions are not simply limited to anger or a “short temper.” Reactions run the gambit of fight, flight, freeze thoughts & actions. Yes, can we lash out. We can also become anxious. We can also procrastinate. We can compare ourselves to others and think less favorably about ourselves. All these reactions harm us in small ways, which can compound over time.
The good news for us is that our reactions are not automatic. In fact, it’s learned behavior that we taught ourselves. Of course, we didn’t do this consciously. Yet, our unconscious picked up a pattern of “stress soothing” behavior that helped us feel better. Though, that feeling better usually doesn’t create success and even leads to even more stress over time.
Instead, we want to take Viktor Frankl’s suggestion and lean into our power to respond to a stressful situation.
We respond when we think and act with a conscious awareness to what is truly in our best interest of thriving. Our response elevates us, making us stronger.
Do you habitually turn away from the uncomfortable? That’s likely a reaction. Do you lean into the uncomfortable such that you can solve issues? That’s likely a response. Your results are contingent upon your responding vs reacting.
In golf there’s a fun stat called “scramble.” It’s the percent of times that you make par or better on a hole when you’re not on the green in the number of strokes that you should be. Example, if you’re playing a par 4, your ball should be on the green after your second shot. You can hit two puts for a par. Usually, the winner of a PGA event is among the leaders in the scramble stat in a given tournament.
Obviously, a professional golfer wants to be on every green when they are supposed to be. When they are not, the ones that respond to the situation – as opposed to reacting with anger, frustration, feeling defeated – are the ones that have the best chance to score well enough to win. Especially when the margins are so thin.
Even hacks like you and me (assuming that you, dear reader, are not on the PGA tour), have a much higher chance of bouncing back from a bad shot or hole when we believe “I got this” vs. “Man, I suck today.”
When we encounter a stressful situation, we have a quick two-step process in experiencing it. Mindfulness leader Jon Kabit-Zinn calls it a primary appraisal and secondary appraisal.
The primary appraisal is our judgment of the stressor’s relevance to our well-being. The bigger the perceived negative impact on our well-being, the bigger the reaction to the stress. As it is the primary, this appraisal happens first.
The secondary appraisal is our judgment about the resources we have to deal with the stressor.
This is why deep personal belief is crucial to our success. As a high achiever, we live on the edge and push the envelope. The farther & faster we go, the more inherent stress we encounter. That means we must have a foundational belief in our resources to cope and thrive in the stressor situations. The bigger the self-belief, self-worth we possess, the greater our ability to consciously respond to a situation.
Professional golfer Jon Rahm defied the odds at The Masters golf tournament this year to shoot under par in heavy wind and rain. To-be-sure, he was feeling the stress and pressure of that moment. Most of the golfers lamented the playing conditions in their post round interviews – and you could see it in their body language watching on TV.
Rahm said he was having fun. Clearly, he responded to the stress, not reacted. The other golfers suffered, both their score and seemingly their psyche. Rahm seemed to thrive. He won by 4 strokes.
Notice the stress in your primary appraisal, remember Viktor Frankl’s space to choose your response, believe in your resources to conquer the moment. Your response will win the day.