Mindfulness teaches us how to respond in 1/2 second or less

How many times have you done a particular behavior even though you’ve told yourself just as many times that you aren’t going to do it ever again?  Be honest. You don’t have to tell anyone.  But, you do have to live with the consequences of your behavior.  This morning it was me getting mad and throwing up my hands at the lady in the big red SUV behind me at the stoplight.  The second the light turned green she was honking at me and it really caught me off guard.

Did you know that you have one-half of a second between the time you see something, hear something, think something, or read something before you engage in a behavior.  For instance, you have one-half of a second after you see the chocolate cake with chocolate icing in the break room at work to decide “I’m not going to have any because I’m not hungry” or just mindlessly gobble down a piece (or two).  That’s why you might be on the “see food, eat food” diet.  You’re just not present for that one-half of a second when you could choose the behavior based on your real hunger.

This means that you have to be REALLY PRESENT to catch that one-half of a second.  Just think about how many minutes and hours go by that you aren’t really present and the enormity of this proposition becomes clear.  Cheri Huber wrote, “We don’t lack self-discipline, we lack presence.”   I tell this to people in my classes who are working on not eating when they’re stressed, bored, or distracted. It’s not about self-discipline; it’s about being aware of where you are and what you are doing.

Victor Frankl was right –“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.” That space amounts to one-half of a second.  In that space lies your freedom to choose your response to any situation—with food, with a co-worker, with your partner, with your child, with the person behind you in the red SUV, and anyone and anything else that pops up in your life.

Mindfulness teaches us how to use this space.  First of all you have to become aware that there is a space.  So go through the rest of the day being on the lookout for when you get triggered with a stimulus that you know can “make you” do something you don’t feel good about later.  Take a breath or two and notice the impulse to say or do something that you normally do without thinking, but don’t say or do it this time.  Be aware of your choices.  You could do nothing.  You could smile. You could breathe some more. Instead of engaging in automatic behaviors–breathe, think about it first, and then respond.

For me this morning, I could have waved and smiled.  I would have felt better and so would the woman in the red SUV.  So, wherever you are, this is me smiling and waving.