Mind the gap
If you’ve ever been to London and ridden the Underground, you’re familiar with the famous phrase, “Mind the Gap” — a caution to rail passengers to be careful while crossing the gap between the train and the station platform.
There’s a lesson there: Potentially dangerous gaps are much more safely and easily navigated when we’re consciously aware of them.
But it’s the subconscious gaps that get us into trouble.
Viktor Frankl is known for another famous phrase related to different gap:
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space lies our freedom and power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom.”
He’s right, of course. But I would add a caveat to it that makes all the difference to navigating the gap:
The width of the gap between stimulus and response, and our subsequent power to choose, is entirely dependent on our conscious awareness of it. The less conscious we are of the gap, the smaller it is and the less power we have to choose.
For some, that gap is so razor thin so as to be all but completely useless.
Our maturity can be measured by the width of the gap between stimulus and response. The narrower the gap, the more we live as a victim, an actor in the play of life, a puppet on the strings of stimulus. The wider the gap, the more we live as a victor, the writer and director of our life story.
Therefore, before we focus on what we do inside that gap, it’s imperative that we first learn how to widen the gap itself.
By widening the gap — in other words, increasing our conscious awareness of the fact that we do, in fact, have a choice in our responses to stimuli — our choices usually take care of themselves.
It’s relatively rare that we make poor choices consciously; most of our poor choices are made subconsciously and we don’t fully realize it until after the consequences unfold.
So how, exactly can we widen the gap?
I have found the following three methods to be the most useful in my life:
1. Mindfulness meditation
Mindfulness mediation is defined as the “intentional, accepting and non-judgmental focus of one’s attention on the emotions, thoughts and sensations occurring in the present moment.”
It is a method for becoming unconditionally present, which enables us to accept reality as it is.
Much of our unconscious, knee-jerk reactions come from an inability to accept reality. We want our spouses to treat us differently. If only our parents would have loved us more, we wouldn’t be so messed up.
If only the universe and everyone in it would conform to our perceptions and beliefs and cater to our needs, then we would be happy.
If only wishing made it so…
Daily meditation, by which we learn to accept reality as it is, is absolutely indispensable for anyone wanting to become more empowered in the gap of choice.
2. Positive brainwashing
We use brainwashing as a negative, manipulative term. But the truth is that we all could use a lot of positive brainwashing to purge victim thinking from our minds.
Positive brainwashing is a dedication to lifelong learning and growth. It is a commitment to eliminating and replacing false, negative, and limiting beliefs by constantly filling your mind with true, positive, and empowering beliefs.
The most effective form of this is to spend time regularly with the greatest victors the world has ever known, who leave us with no excuse for any degree of victimhood.
You can’t sit at the feet of Viktor Frankl and feel justified in complaining about your dinner arriving late, or other petty first-world problems. You can’t learn about Booker T. Washington’s life and then honestly attribute your lack of success to a scarcity of opportunities.
A few recommendations:
- Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
- Up From Slavery by Booker T. Washingon
- And There Was Light by Jacques Lusseyran
- Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
- The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom
- Left to Tell by Immaculee Ilibagiza
- Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
- As a Man Thinketh by James Allen
- The Four Agreements by don Miguel Ruiz
- Loving What Is by Byron Katie
- Bonds that Make Us Free by C. Terry Warner
- Non-Violent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg
3. Honest reflection
Try as we may to be mature, conscious, and wise about our responses, it is inevitable that we’re going to mess up. We’re going to react angrily when we get cut off on the freeway. We’re going to act defensively with our spouses in the heat of an argument.
We can’t take those moments back. But what we can do is reflect on them after the fact, with brutal honesty and unconditional personal responsibility.
We can ask ourselves, “What did I do to contribute to that? What can I do now to fix the situation?”
The more we’re willing to take a long, hard, and honest look at the circumstances, events, and conflicts in our lives, the greater our ability to widen the gap in the future. This is not about shame or blame — it’s about empowerment.
The gap between stimulus and response can set us free, or it can damn us to the hell of perpetual victimhood. It can spur new growth, or trigger degeneration.
What determines the path we take is the level of conscious awareness we bring to the gap.
It brings a whole new meaning to the phrase, doesn’t it? Mind the gap, indeed.