Imagine this: someone is blaming or accusing you of something. One of your reactions might be to; be defensive, react the way to other party expects you to react, respond from emotions. In some situations, you may be inclined to think that you are pushed in a corner. We may even feel like we had no choice, that we were forced to respond that way. But the hash truth is that we always have the freedom to choose our responses.
We are responsible for our actions.
It may be a bitter pill to swallow. Because it is easier to react instead of act (I’ll come back to the difference). It is easier to say: “That person was pushing me to say this or that”. Or ” That person made me so angry/sad/furious I had to say it”. “That person was attacking me and I had to stand up for myself.” But in all those sentences you blame someone else. Now I’m not saying that you don’t have the right to defend yourself, but it is your responsibility to choose how you respond.
Space between stimulus and response
Now between a stimulus (= whatever made you angry/sad/furious) and your response there is an empty space. Viktor Frankl refers to that space as “man has freedom to choose”. You get to elaborate how you want to respond and what the best way forward is. Stephen R. Covey best describes this freedom in his book: “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”.
Within the freedom to choose are those endowments that make us uniquely human. In addition to self-awareness, we have imagination, the ability to create in our minds beyond our present reality. We have conscience, a deep inner awareness of right and wrong, of the principles that govern our behavior, and a sense of the degree to which our thoughts and actions are in harmony with them. And we have independent will, the ability to act based on our self-awareness, free of all other influences.
- Stephen R. Covey
Act instead of react
So basically when you react to a stimulus you immediately respond. Which is equivalent to talking before you think. But the better option might be to act on the stimulus. This means that you spend some time thinking about your response, with self-awareness, imagination, conscience, and independent will. Which is equivalent to thinking before you speak.
Source image: Unsplash, Nadine Shaabana