A Library of Emotional and Practical Responses To Disturbances

“Human freedom involves our capacity to pause between the stimulus and response and, in that pause, to choose the one response toward which we wish to throw our weight.”

Rollo May

How do you choose your response to events, requests, and opportunities in life? Do you make proactive decisions or tend to default to well-worn paths that you’ve been down many times before?

Epictetus said that “people are disturbed not by things, but by the view they take of them”.

This quote is sometimes interpreted as a judgement or criticism of emotion. As if to say it’s wrong to feel disturbed, upset, or angered by something. And that it’s our fault if we do feel those things. The insinuation from some people is we should choose not to care. To remain passive.

But what is wrong with being disturbed?

The inner observatory - choose your response in the face of adversity

The truth underlying this quote is more nuanced than it’s often given credit for. Perhaps we can read it as a reassurance that feeling disturbed is not inherently wrong. And that nothing is intrinsically disturbing. But we can actively decide whether or not to receive sensory information as a disturbance. So we can choose to respond by feeling disturbed when something isn’t right.

If we know where we wish to throw our weight (our chosen values and beliefs), then disturbances will prompt positive action. But if we’ve never thought about our values and beliefs, we might carry stories given to us by other people about what should and shouldn’t disturb us.

So we become disturbed not because we care but because we believe we have to care.

Is there any of our weight behind this belief?

Your Inner Observatory

In The Return to Serenity Island, we picture life as a volcanic map. Rumbling energy beneath our feet can cause significant shifts in the landscapes.

The bubbling magma represents our core values. These are the essential and meaningful needs, motivations, and ways of seeing things that fuel and sustain us. When they are free to flow, they positively inspire, feed, and infuse every living part of the island—creating new possibilities, connections, and potentials for our life.

But they are also the parts of us that get disturbed when they are restricted and stressed.

Different things can stop the flow, forcing a build-up of pressure in the core. Direct external factors (e.g. demands on our time and space), personal factors (e.g. unhelpful habits, unprocessed experiences, or a lack of self-care), and indirect external factors (e.g. impactful news stories and current events).

In the course, we imagine ourselves with an inner Observatory. A playful and comfortable space where we can see what’s going on around the different areas of our island. Through screens, buttons, maps, and gadgets, we monitor the volcanic activity we imagine our life is built on.

Where is pressure building up? Where are the potential sources of volatility? Which powerlines are not carrying sufficient energy to the important areas of life?

The Observatory helps us become aware of repeating patterns, sources of stress, and needs that we can do something about before eruptions occur. It’s also an essential library of resources when it comes to building response flexibility (options from which to choose our response)—and aligning reactions with the kind of person we want to be and the type of world we want to throw our weight towards helping create.

Your Library of Potential Responses

In the second part of the quote, Rollo May said, “the capacity to create ourselves, based upon this freedom, is inseparable from consciousness or self-awareness”.

We grow as people, through increased awareness of the potential responses from which we can choose in the face of any given stimulus.

How does your response library look right now? Does it get a regular re-fresh, or has it been a while since you last added any new options to the shelves?

We might always reach for the same ones because we’ve forgotten to look at the others. Or they’re such broad volumes that it’s difficult to see anything behind or beside them. Responses like “Anger”, “Envy”, or “Despair” are tempting to throw our energy towards. But are they the responses (in conjunction with our deep core values) to which we want to throw our weight?

Choosing Your Response

Our responses often reflect certain beliefs we carry about ourselves, other people, and the world. And the way we choose to respond to something (the stimulus) can often reinforce this belief. Through our actions we make it feel even more true.

In The Return to Serenity Island, we look at our beliefs and consider how they can hinder or help the flow of energy around our life. We do this exercise to process what’s happening beneath the surface regarding the obstacles that might block desired changes from coming to life.

It’s a simple five-step exercise:

1. Desire

What is an outcome that I want to happen? For example, I want to HAVE money saved.

2. Current Belief

Acknowledge your current belief about yourself concerning this desire. For example, I’m terrible at saving money.

3. Identity

Who would I become? For example, I want to BECOME the type of person who is good at saving money.

4. Actions

What do people like that do? For example, people who are good at saving money use a budget. What does that require? List all the small steps you can take to create and use a budget. Begin doing them.

5. Turn The Belief Inside Out

Turn the belief into an evidence-based truth with a positive verb (growing, learning, becoming, developing etc). Who are you becoming as you throw your weight towards what matters to you? For example, I am learning how to have a good relationship with money.

We can do this with anything that matters to us. We can even use it to reframe how we might think about changes we’d love to see in the world “out there”, whether it’s shifting the identity of a relationship, a family, an organisation, or even a whole community, through our beliefs about it.

Rather than limiting it to what we believe it is, to open up the road ahead to what it is we are becoming next as we start to take action along this desired path.

The Return to Serenity Island
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