Updated: Jun 23, 2022
We all have regrets in life. Often, we feel remorse over our inappropriate reactions and decisions made in mere seconds, under challenging and stressful situations. If we were able to turn back time, and with the benefit of hindsight:
What would we have done differently in that same situation?
How could we make ourselves see, or at least consider, the possible consequences of our actions?
What were the “shoulds” and “should-nots” for us to do, to achieve a different outcome?
Unfortunately, what is done is done, we cannot change the past.
So, a wiser way forward for us, is to learn from those unwholesome experiences or even painful encounters now, and not repeat them anymore. Else, we “lose” twice.
Selfishly, it is in our own interest to learn how to nurture and train ourselves to respond, instead of reacting, during a provoking and taxing circumstance.
But what are the differences between a reaction and a response?
Reaction vs Response
In my view, the differences are:
With this understanding, we should strive to always make a response, with an action and/or a decision that has been thought through thoroughly, based on a mindful ready state of acceptance of any possible outcome and impact.
More importantly, as highlighted by Viktor Frankl, an Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist, philosopher, writer, and Holocaust survivor, who said “Between stimulus and reaction there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
I could not agree more with this aphorism.
(Note: For the discussion purpose of illustrating my messages clearer with an alignment throughout this article, I have taken the liberty to change the original underlined word, “response” to “reaction” of Viktor Frankl’s quote above.)
Indeed, if we can train ourselves to mindfully make use of the space between stimulus and reaction, then there is a choice - how to respond in a demanding and tense situation most appropriately, to minimise hurt and harm to ourselves and others.
Pause and Reset
I had an ex-client, Mr S (name changed for client confidentiality), who reached out to me suddenly out of the blue. Based on the short exchange, I noticed that he was harbouring plans to tender an immediate resignation from his day job. So I quickly arranged a therapy session with him.
Mr S was in his mid-40s, married with two teenagers. He was a Senior Information Technology (IT) Manager in a local company for more than ten years. His wife also held a managerial role but in a foreign company.
Although Mr S specialised in IT, his passion and interest were in the culinary field. In particular, French cuisine, pastries, and bakeries. His passion led him to attend various local and overseas courses to deepen his knowledge, and expand his capacity and capabilities. And while working full-time, he even participated in a few major competitions to sharpen his skills, and widen his exposure and network.
Because of his vehemence, Mr S started a sideline as a home-based baker and as a private chef for celebratory occasions and events five years ago. Soon after starting, he earned a reputation for being creative and imaginative when serving the desserts to end the memorable dining experiences on a high note.
However, this cannot be said for his day job. Mr S’s employment as a Senior IT Manager sapped his energy and drained his strength as he was losing passion and interest in this field. And with the recent replacement of his direct supervisor, he was feeling especially low. Mr S did not feel understood, trusted, and supported by his new supervisor, who exhibited a different mindset and priorities at work.
Having been in the corporate workforce for over twenty years, Mr S had the epiphany that he wanted to do something different that would bring joy and comfort to others, through his cooking and baking. Furthermore, he did not want to continue doing what he did not enjoy anymore.
Mr S’s desired life transition from corporate to self-employment was definitely not only putting him out of his comfort zone but on a road less travelled.
To me, these incidents could be considered as either catalysts or obstacles, leading him to make some crucial decisions during this period of transition. His perspectives and interpretations on the state of affairs could make a watershed decision, driving him to different directions and outcomes in life.
Thus, my first therapy goal was to de-escalate and process Mr S’s resentment, impulsiveness and irrationality of yearning to quit his work employment immediately, without serving the resignation notice but to make an in-lieu compensation to the company.
To do this, I led and guided Mr S to develop and refine a “Place . Space . Pace” approach that directed him to gain greater clarity on how he could improve his Quality of Life, one step at a time so that he could move on and live a more purposeful life.
A Place for the Body
In this dimension, the physique of Mr S was considered as a form of place that he could have some sense of control and influence over it. This comprehension led Mr S and I to look at his unconscious habitual behaviours.
Mr S had the tendency of walking away from a stressful and uncomfortable situation when it was beyond his control and influence.
To him, removing himself from the scene was a way of “gaining power”, for having a sense of being “in charge of” that he could at least render to himself.
Little did he know that such an act was offensive and disrespectful to others present, and it created a negative perception and impression that he was escaping from the heated and challenging issues they were discussing. Reflectively, his urge of wanting to resign instantly from work was an “escapism” reaction to the tough episode.
Mr S was coached on how to physically relax and be grounded, and monitor his breathing, among other bodily anchoring and stabilising techniques, whenever he was under duress.
As a result, Mr S was slowly able to keep himself staying at the places when an unpleasant discussion was made. Also, he managed to respond more calmly and rationally to his supervisor when there were some debates and disagreements at work.
A Space for the Mind
The awareness of one’s own cognition, in terms of thoughts, reasonings, perceptions, interpretations, consciousness etc, is an important therapy goal of any of my sessions for my clients.
In the case of Mr S, I helped him to think through his initial reaction to resigning from his employment. He had to be mindful that should he leave his job to become self-employed, he had to be prepared for much uncertainty. More importantly, he needed to also have his family’s affirmation and support for his mental well-being.
We spent much time, energy, and resources over a couple of therapy sessions in evaluating and weighing the various pros and cons, advantages and disadvantages, costs and benefits, “what-ifs” and “in-cases”, in the following essential considerations:
possibility and difficulty of making “U-Turns”
options and choices
financial security and stability
supplementary and alternative income
possessions and reserves
obligations and commitments
persistence and sustainability of culinary assignments
opportunities and prospects
means and resources
foundations and establishments
referrals and recommendations
proofs and evidence
Through the sessions, we could not deny but recognise the significance of the sentimental and emotional aspect of Mr S – the need for Self-Actualisation. Bringing happiness and satisfaction to the five senses of enjoyment of his clients through his food creations was the prevailing life aspiration of Mr S then. Mr S’s fervour and desire simply outweighed all the rational appraisals and evaluations, leading to an obvious decision of employment resignation. Yet, Mr S was pointed to realise that he needed to set himself for success by having proper planning and appropriate execution of his plan in stages. Mr S’s training in mindfulness gave him time, choices, and freedom. He was no longer swept away by his instantaneous emotions and feelings but always with some sufficient and balanced head space, steering him to respond with wisdom and kindness to himself, rather than his habit of reactivity. A Pace for the Soul Everyone needs to take stock of their lives at some point in time. We have to ask ourselves a critical question when reviewing our current crossroads, which is, "What do I really want to do moving forward?" To Mr S, he was acknowledged by me that, based on his strong enthusiasm and great talents, he was very likely to succeed in his new profession. This aligned with his need for Self-Actualisation in his soul deeply, shifting from a B grader in the IT field, while trying to be a B+ performer, to another higher level of an A grader in the F&B field, while aiming to be an A+ performer! In this aspect, my role in Mr S’s sessions was to direct him to understand how he was influenced by his own affect, which refers to emotions, feelings, sensations, and moods. I wanted him to connect his affection with his behaviour and cognition, as these three elements are always begetting and reinforcing each other, positively or negatively. With the clarity in the consciousness of Affect, Behaviour and Cognition, Mr S was steered to make the most suitable decision in this pivotal life transition. In my experience, to maximise the effectiveness and positive impact of this process of causal effect, the pacing is one of the key enablers in the process. Thus, before Mr S could make a decision, I wanted him to have a moment to pause and ponder through, for how he responded to the situation may prevent regrets in life. In this sense, I appreciate how Sebastian Vettel proposes it, “Sometimes you need to press pause to let everything sink in.” Mr S understood my good intention of requesting him to have a pause for an in-depth contemplation. And he did. After two weeks, Mr S resigned officially from his work employment and left the company about two months later. Today, Mr S is doing very well in his new career though the initial stage was more challenging and unstable. With the great support of his family, especially from his wife who continues providing emotional encouragement and some financial stability, Mr S could concentrate on expanding his new business and excel in what his zeal and talents are! Pause before judging. Pause before assuming. Pause before accusing. Pause whenever you’re about to react harshly and you’ll avoid doing and saying things you’ll later regret. Lori Deschene Note: As this article is mainly catered to general members of the public, the case conceptualisation, intervention formulation, discussion and terminologies used are deliberately simplified and presented for an easy reading, comprehension and relevancy.
This article is written based on Krish Phua's greatest aspiration to be a mind healer, facilitating his clients to cultivate and explore "Inside Mind Insights" for improving their Wellness, Wholeness and Wiseness. Other articles of Krish Phua: Sow a Seed https://www.oberdanmarianetti.com/post/sow-a-seed Last Man Standing https://www.oberdanmarianetti.com/post/last-man-standing In or Out https://www.oberdanmarianetti.com/post/in-or-out As It Is https://www.oberdanmarianetti.com/post/as-it-is Mapmakers and Travellers https://www.oberdanmarianetti.com/post/mapmakers-and-travellers Our Little Voice https://www.oberdanmarianetti.com/post/our-little-voice The Three Minds https://www.oberdanmarianetti.com/post/the-three-minds My First Lover https://www.oberdanmarianetti.com/post/my-first-lover Hurting to Heal https://www.oberdanmarianetti.com/post/hurting-to-heal