I talk a lot about depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, mental health, and general wellness. And I've noticed that whenever I talk about the what, people ask about the how. Once they realize they have depression, low self-esteem, or whatever it may be, they want to know what they can do about it. It makes sense: it is only natural for us to want to fix a problem after we identify one. But in everything I talk about, the what is a big part of the how. Let me explain.
“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
This quote is one of my favorites, because it beautifully sums up the key to changing our dysfunctional patterns and improving our lives. The stimulus refers to the inciting event (anything from an argument, our anxiety, an unhelpful thought, a toxic person) and the response refers to our reaction to that inciting event (yelling back, avoiding the feared situation, buying into the unhelpful thought, holding onto anger).
Frankl points out that there is a space, no matter how small, between each of these stimuli and the responses we have to them. We may not have much control over the stimuli, but we always have some degree of control over our responses. Gratefully, our responses are often the more important of the two.
Cultivating the space between stimulus and response buys us time and energy to think, to choose, and to change an automatic or problematic reaction into a reaction that is more in line with our values or moves us closer to our goals.
While there are many ways to cultivate this space, the most important is by developing awareness. This is where the what becomes the how. By becoming aware of our typical responses, we instantly create the space to change them. By realizing that our negative thoughts are the products of depression, we can choose to not instantly believe them. By learning that we have low self-esteem, we can see when our response to something reflects this low self-esteem and choose an alternative response that be more in line with our goal of improving our self-esteem.
Journaling and mindfulness are two other ways to cultivate this space that I find particularly helpful and we will definitely talk more about these. But ultimately, just becoming aware of the patterns that are keeping us stuck and the reasons we engage in some of these patterns can be the first step to freedom. In other words, just naming the monster can make it easier to defeat.