Imagine for a moment that you were ripped away from your current reality.

Torn from your family, your friends, and every thing that mattered to you in the world and forced into a dark, cold place filled with death, disrespect, and torture.

It was in this chilling place that Viktor Frankl, a holocaust survivor and author of the must-read book  Man’s Search for Meaning delivered this humbling insight to the world:

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom. Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” – Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

Life is a series of stimuli strung together; a myriad of events. Jobs, relationships, schoolwork, sicknesses, health, plans, and expectations are all things that are happening.

Our reactions to those stimuli slowly accumulate to construct our reality.

Stress is a reaction. Anger is a reaction.

We actively choose these reactions. Sometimes, as it seems, unconsciously.

But, as Frankl reminds us, the door is cracked, there is a sliver of light in the coming darkness – a small space in time that exists before we react to our external world.

This is the space in which we must learn to live. This is the space we must learn to prolong, to increase so that we can reflect, even for a second, on what the consequences of our reactions will be.

Do we choose stress? If so, in that moment, we must also choose stress’ accomplices: sleeplessness, frustration, and ugliness.

Do we choose anger? Then anger’s cousins of disrespect, hurt, and destruction will come along.

Increasing that space between stimulus and response can free us from ourselves. When we do it consistently, we become who we truly want to be.

Here’s how we can work to get there:

1. Breathe.

Take one breath and focus on it. Only that one breath. Breathe deep into your stomach.

If you are breathing then there is more right with you as a human than there is wrong with you.

2. Name.

“The moment you see a raging river means you are already rising above it.”

In that breath, you may start to feel an emotion. It could be the slightly nauseating sensation of stress or the slight heart rate increase signaling anger.

Notice these physical symptoms of the choice you are about to make and name them.

Tell yourself that you feel yourself getting angry and then ask, “…is this the choice I am going to make? Is this the choice I am willing to live with? Is this who I am?”

3.  Choose.

When you breath and identify coming emotions, you can then choose. And in this choice and reaction lies your freedom. As Frankl put it, “the last of the human freedoms…”

Two resources I would personally recommend to hone your skills in this area are Matt Tenney’s book Serve to Be Great and Chade Meng-Tan’s Search Inside Yourself.

The results of nurturing this space are rewarding!

– Zach