I’ve written before about the gap of time between stimulus and response that Victor Frankl called “choice.” In modern society and a world of technology, those moments and fractions of time seem to dwindle to nothingness as we embrace the faster and the quicker and the immediate gratification. The famous line from Jurassic Park comes to mind… “so preoccupied with whether or not [we] could, [we] didn’t stop to think if [we] should.” Now it seems that we have even less time to consider.
I find myself rushing around so fast sometimes that I don’t even notice and fall into a pattern of just doing and choosing with no thought or reflection about alternatives. I know I’m not alone. I see this pattern mirrored all around me by individuals, groups, corporations, and institutions. Recently, in a meeting, I heard a colleague comment that your first thought is what society tells you, and your second is from the person you want to become. That comment really resonated with me, but I took it a bit further. I interpreted it to mean that your first reaction (whether internal or external) in any situation is usually a reflection of what you have been taught or programmed to think by culture and society; the second response that occurs to you is a reflection of the struggle to become: Something more, someone better, someone memorable, or someone important… The problem for most people is that the time frame to have those two reactions, responses, or thoughts has been drastically decreased… artificially. The instantaneous response expectation has dissolved that window for choice and almost eliminated the opportunity “think again”. So, what does that do to our struggle to become? What room does that leave to strive for better than reaction?
No one wants to halt the tide of progress (or be accused of being the factor that slows it). So, no one wants to say, “Maybe we should take a moment to think…” or “Perhaps we should stop and consider all the options before we make a hasty decision…” So, instead, we rush right along with what seemed-to-be-a-good-idea-at-the-time; only to be followed by a quick brake and reset to try something else when it turns out not to be the best idea. Oh, the time that could be salvaged (and possibly harm avoided) if someone… possibly myself… had taken a moment, quick inventory, and possibly not leaped before looking.
And… rereading, that paragraph sounds really negative and like I am somehow the victim of all this mad, mad, world of faster and “Right NOW!” That is not true at all. I am as much to blame for my chaotic and knee-jerk responses to the world around me as anyone. It is super easy to get caught up in the flow of traffic and find that I’m way beyond a safe pace for me. I am not what I would consider slow, but I’ve found myself more and more reactive instead of responsive, acting on autopilot instead of considerate and conscious decisiveness. That’s a problem.
What do I mean by that? Well, I’ll tell ya… When I respond, I should do so in my own time, at my own pace, and with consciousness of the choice. When I react, I’m often mindlessly doing something to stop a negative stimulus in my life without any other thought than “MAKE IT BLOODY STOP ALREADY!!!” and occasionally “I have to answer all of these requests NOW or DIE!!!”
So, um… the truth is, I would say that maybe 1 to 5% of the conscious decisions and actions that I’m required to take (excluding commutes by motorized vehicle and crossing the street in heavy traffic) on any given day could result in death. Once upon a time, that number might have been slightly higher, but these days… not so much. So, if I do not actually answer, respond, or act upon requests with immediacy implied by the requester… no one will die. Seriously. Nobody. The people making the requests might not agree, but then, they are stuck in that immediate gratification loop that everything has to be done and done NOW. Chances are that no one will actually be dramatically inconvenienced, despite their prognostications and over-dramatized estimations to the contrary. The other bit about making it stop? Well, that is one of those stimulus response systems that seems to be programmed into humans like classical conditioning. Most parents will recognize it. That voice that becomes a repeated “Mom, Mama, Mommy, Mum, MAAAA!”… in truth the response is not often the wisest or well thought out to this particular prompting, now is it? But that is precisely how my make-it-stop nerve gets overused. Again, I can find other ways of making it stop than giving in, addressing the unnecessarily repetitive prompts, or shooting the subject in question. I can actually ignore it, shut it off, stop reading my email, and put my phone on airplane mode. This might actually not go over so well initially (think what happens when you try to extinguish behavior), but it might also teach others to exercise a bit of patience on their own.
Once upon a time… when someone needed to reach me, they had to call. If I wasn’t there, they had to try again later. Once I had an answerphone, they could leave a message, but they still had to wait for me to call back when I was available. Mobile technology has somehow given everyone the impression that each and every one of us should be available at anytime, anywhere. Vacations, hours of rest, travel times are all no excuse for failure to respond. Well… that shouldn’t be the case. We all need the opportunity to be unavailable, but we also need to be unavailable without the guilt. Yes, I said guilt. Along with this assumption that everyone be available at any time has come this feeling that if we don’t answer (calls, texts, IMs, emails) we will lose out. I’ve actually seen this as an identified and defined phenomenon: FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). I think that the term is supposed to apply to social context and people with unhealthy attachments to their social media accounts, but it can be more generally applied, I think. We fear that if we don’t respond that a friend will no longer like us, a potential romance will pass us by, a job opportunity will be missed, or (worse) we will get fired.
Why have we gotten to this point? Why do we feel that we consistently have to be the first hand on the buzzer? Why, why, why? And what happened to that momentary space between stimulus and response? In many instances in the rush, rush, rushing of our lives to gratify a stimulus by a response, we fall back on automatic and the first thing that pops into our heads. Sometimes, that might not be so bad… if you are taking a multiple choice standardized test, maybe… The rest of the time, it’s rather awesome to maybe think again. Get a second opinion from a less reflexive self. Challenge that impulse to immediate reaction and try to work towards that better self you wish to become. Instead of rushing to the first response, pause and reflect. You might be more pleased with the results.