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Between an impulse and a reaction, there is the space between. That space between is where the difference between success and failure often happens.

The Pull to React

Sometimes in my life, I blow past the space between and just react to my impulses. For example, someone asks me to do something, I feel guilty, and say yes immediately. My wife says something that bothers me and I fire back a sarcastic remark. I get scared about doing something new and immediately avoid it. And so on.

What’s in Your Best Interest?

The problem with reacting right away to my impulses is that my immediate reaction isn’t always in my best interest. Sometimes (let’s be honest, often) there is a different way forward that would be a more effective response. But I don’t even get a chance to think about it when I’m immediately reacting.

4 Ways to Maximize the Space Between

Here’s a better way to move forward:

  1. Press pause on your response. A big part of the problem is we don’t give ourselves enough time to consider all our options. To stop this from happening, get in the habit of not responding right away. Make it a rule for yourself—when someone does something, don’t respond right away. Very few things in life require an immediate response. Usually you can wait a day before sending the email back.
  2. Consider all your options. Sometimes we get locked into one or two possible options. But we haven’t taken the time to consider all the possibilities. Part of the benefit of taking your time is you give yourself some time to think about it. Sometimes the first option you think about isn’t the most effective response. Sometimes the second (or third) option isn’t great either. Stick with it and see if a better response comes up for you.
  3. Talk it over with someone who has your best interests at heart. A few years ago, I reached out to a psychologist to ask if he would be a consultant on my grant. His response always stuck with me: “I have to check with my advisory team.” He had a group of people whom he gave the power to help him make decisions about any new opportunities. The goal was to make sure the activities were in line with his mission. He ended up saying no to being involved in the grant. But I loved his idea. Before you respond, talk it over with someone who has your best interests in mind.
  4. Move forward with confidence. Sometimes, even when you spend the time to think about it, there isn’t one “best option.” Sometimes it seems like all your options have pros and cons. That’s common in life. If you have done your due diligence, pick an option and move forward with confidence. You can always make a course correction later. Remember, it’s not always what you do that’s important, but what you do with what you do.

Discussion

When you feel an impulse to react, press the pause button. Don’t respond right away. Instead, take your time and consider all your options, so you can move forward with the best decision possible. What has helped you to respond thoughtfully rather than react?

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