Your Moment of Choice


Your moment of choice lies in the gap between stimulus and response. Taking responsibility is the most empowering thing you can do once you truly understand its meaning.

We often react to situations as if we only have one option. Once we recognise that we always have a choice we begin to feel in control of our actions and our lives in general. For example, what do you do if the phone rings? No doubt you answer it. But what else could you do? You could leave it to ring, let the answerphone click in, ask someone else to answer it, or even unplug it. These are all choices.

Here’s an idea for you…What happens when someone does something to upset you? Perhaps there’s something that they keep doing that really gets you down, and you feel it’s just not fair. Let me ask you a question, ‘If you knew that you are able to choose an alternative response, how will you behave differently next time? Make a decision and commit to it. You’ll be delighted at how much better you will feel.

Now let’s think about this in terms of our relationships. Let’s just imagine that I’m at home one evening and I’ve decided to make a real effort and cook a fabulous meal for my partner. The candles are lit, the music is playing, the wine is chilled and the food is almost ready. Then I hear the front door slam shut, a briefcase is thrown down, one of the dogs yelp as it’s kicked out of the way and in he storms, ranting and raving about the dreadful day that he’s hand, his useless colleagues and how his boss has let him down. Then he says he doesn’t want to eat and stomps off.

At that moment the phone rings and it’s a good friend of mine asking if I’d like to join her down the wine bar for a drink. I reply, ‘If you’d rung earlier I would have loved to, but my partner’s just come home in a foul temper and put me in a really bad mood, so I wouldn’t be very good company.’ Now you might say that this is understandable, but did he put me in a bad mood or was that the response I chose?

Think about how else I could have responded. I could have listened to him, poured him a glass of wine and suggested he go and relax for a while. Alternatively I could have offered to run him a bath so that he could calm himself down. Or I could even have gone down to the wine bar.

Had I chosen any of these other options, chances are that within half an hour we would have been sat down together enjoying my lovely meal. Instead, we’re probably set for a full-on row and probably won’t speak for days.

Now I’m not saying that we don’t deal with issues. It’s not about ‘giving in’ or ‘being soft’. Although choosing an angry response at the time isn’t particularly helpful, it’s important that I talk to my partner and explain how I felt about his behaviour once everything is calm and perhaps a few days later. So, let’s be clear, pushing our buttons then we lose control of our life and let someone else run it.

In the gap between the stimulus and response is our moment of choice, whether it’s deciding not to join our partner in a bad mood, choosing not to feel hurt when our children forget our birthday or choosing to go to a meeting with our boss even though we feel it’s a waste of time. When we take responsibility for our behaviour and recognise that we’ve made a choice then we begin to feel in control, which is the most empowering feeling. It took me a long time to come to terms with the fact that I have choices in my relationships, that I didn’t have to react to my husbands all the time and then blame them for the way I felt, but that I could make a conscious choice about my responses.

Penny Ferguson

CEO & Founder of The Living Leader Ltd