When I’m traveling by train or on the underground in the UK I often see the words ‘Mind The Gap’ painted on the platform edge. The phrase is also often spoken through a recorded message. This is obviously to warn passengers of the gap between the platform and the train. A sensible warning.
I took this warning on board some time ago as a reminder to think before I act. A warning to myself to mind the gap between stimulus and response. Steven Covey introduced this concept in his ground-breaking book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. This is an excellent book and has stood the test of time.
I often remind myself and others to Mind The Gap. When someone says or does something that creates a particularly strong emotional reaction in you, do you stop to think about your reaction and response or do you jump in with the first thing that comes to mind?
A knee jerk response might actually be the appropriate response. Often it isn’t.
Creating a gap between stimulus and response can often lead to a more appropriate response that helps rather than hinders progress.
Ask yourself questions in the moment such as “what emotion am I feeling and why?”, “what would be an appropriate reaction to this situation?”, “how might I gain some influence in this situation?”.
If you are hot-headed and not used to controlling your impulses then this is actually a very difficult habit to develop. Ask a trusted friend or colleague to offer feedback when you react too quickly. Ask them to be the recorded voice on the train that says “Mind The Gap” when they see you are about to react too quickly.
I promise you this foundational habit will transform your ability to influence, gain respect and build trust. Try it.
p.s. See my post on not bottling up negative emotions. Reacting with a more appropriate response does not mean that feelings shouldn’t be expressed or that disruptive behaviours in others shouldn’t go unchallenged.