Respond or React?

Respond or React?

Speaking with Deliberate Intention

As Responsibility-thinking — or Responsibility-consciousness — gains popularity, and as more and more of our students are out there in the world, I often get one piece of delightfully positive feedback from others. They say something like this:

“Christopher, I can recognize when meeting someone if they have gone through Responsibility Immersion: They speak with such deliberate intention.

When this happens I ask ‘You practice Responsibility, don’t you?’ And they smile and nod ‘Yes'”

(This post began as an email broadcast. It is around 780 words and takes the average reader 6 minutes.)

Where do the deliberately intentional speech and behavior come from in a Responsibility-thinker?

They come from the space between stimulus and response.

(Stay with me.

I know I’ve written and made videos about this before. I think you will find something here that you haven’t seen unless you’ve been in a workshop with me in the last year.)

I would love your help correcting a widespread misattribution. Quote sites around the internet attribute this quote to Viktor Frankl:

“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.”

Except Viktor Frankl did not write it. Steven Covey said it.

I myself misattributed it for many years. Then one day, as I was tightening my standards for citing others, I went looking for the original source. I could not find it. Instead, I found the Quote Investigator link above that clarified it for me.

If you learned this quote from me and also misattribute it to Frankl, I apologize for misleading you. I encourage you to make a new choice.

Let’s dig into what the quote means.

What the Quote Means

It reflects on a basic well-accepted dynamic of normal psychology (normal refers to normal, as opposed to abnormal behavior.)

The space is illustrated as the red box in this image.


In the image, “S” stands for Stimulus and “R” stands for Response.

Many define Responsibility as the ability to respond. This means that the red box in the drawing stands for

infinite choices.

Think about that.

(Take as long as you like to think about the fact that you always have infinite choices available to you — even when you say “I have no choice.” When you are ready, let’s break it down.)

Your senses receive a stimulus. That stimulus passes through your filters (some of which are your beliefs, assumptions, triggers, stereotypes, biases, etc.) and then you respond.

Except that for many of our “responses” it’s really a reaction. I say “reaction” because the choice was made unconsciously, i.e., without thinking — and that means without using that space depicted by the red box.


Because over the course of our life we’ve installed thousands of programs I’ll call auto-pilots. These autopilots allow us to operate without thinking.

We simply react.

Here’s an example. Let’s say I once had a bad experience dating an engineer. Afterward, I declared “I’ll never date an engineer again!” My mind took me seriously and embedded a negative emotional trigger that goes off when I encounter an otherwise date-worthy engineer.

We start doing this at an early age — very early — and never stop. We do it for food, colors, types of people, races, genders, subject matters, religions, careers — everything.

It’s an auto-pilot shortcut for not thinking.

We have hundreds of thousands of such auto-pilot programs. And they function like this:

SR (Stimulus->Reaction)

As opposed to

S[]R (Stimulus->deliberate choice->Respond)

Let’s turn our attention to Responsibility as a practice.

Responsibility is a Practice

“Practicing” responsibility means

  • catching yourself in reaction-mode,
  • stopping,
  • experiencing the space with infinite choices,
  • making a new choice, and
  • responding

Covey’s quote ends with this sentence:

“In our response lies our growth and freedom”.

Stopping in that space between stimulus and response for a moment and then making a deliberate choice is freedom. It’s also mindfulness, being present, aware, conscious, and the source of growth and personal transformation.

So, I love introducing students to that space.

And I love helping students expand that space.

Discover and expand the space between stimulus and response.

Try us

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