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The Space Between

by Beth on May 3rd, 2013

I recently read Search Inside Yourself, written by Chade-Meng Tang, Google’s Jolly Good Fellow. Seriously, that’s what it says on his business card. The book describes a mindfulness-based emotional intelligence course that Meng designed for Google.

One of the interesting things discussed in the book is “response flexibility”. This is the ability to pause before you act after experiencing a strong emotional stimulus. This pause gives you time to choose how you want to react. Viktor Frankl referred to this as the space between stimulus and response. He said “in that space lies our freedom and our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our happiness.”

Have you ever regretted doing something when triggered by an emotional situation? Me too! Fortunately, we can learn a better way of responding. Mindfulness can help us create distance between our emotions and ourselves. We can acknowledge that a situation has caused us to feel a certain way, while realizing that we have the power to let go of our initial feelings and reassess the situation in order to respond in a more positive way. Emotions are what we feel, not who we are.

The next time you experience a strong negative emotion, pause. Try counting to ten or taking several deep breaths; anything to create a space between the stimulus and your response. I like to silently sing the chorus from Dave Matthews Band’s song.

Now mindfully bring attention to the emotion you are experiencing. Reflect on where the emotion is coming from and try to reframe the situation. Often the emotion comes from your own history; perhaps something in your past has made you especially sensitive to what just happened. Try to see the other person’s point of view to understand his or her motive. Look for something positive. Ask yourself what you might learn from the situation or how it might help you grow or strengthen a relationship. Finally, consider ways you might respond that would have a positive outcome.

Obviously, this isn’t easy to do, but it isn’t impossible either! The more you practice letting emotions move through you, like clouds moving across the sky, the better you’ll get.

P.S. Meng is a very funny guy as you will see if you visit his website.

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