Tag Archives: opinion

Between stimulus and response there is a space…

By Dr. Ken Larsen

Remember that quote from Viktor Frankl?  ““Between stimulus and responsethere is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”  I’ve been working on acting on this insight.  I’ve recognized that sometimes my response is more “reactive”, more of a knee jerk, reflexive reaction, such as the unkind words that tumble out of my mouth in a moment of minor road rage.  Or the quick judgmental opinion that comes to mind when I hear someone speak from values that I don’t share.  These unchosen reactions are a detriment to my mental health and happiness, not to mention the negative impact on others.

What I want for myself is to pause in that space that Frankl describes and choose my response based on a perceptive interpretation of what I want.    Do I want to dump a load of reflexive anger, or do I want to respect myself and the other enough to make a better choice?


This is easier for me to think about and talk about than to actually do it.  What helps me is the growing understanding we have of how our brain has developed reactions to experiences that might be seen as threatening.  One of the most basic of these reactions is the “stranger danger” reaction.  When we encounter someone or something that is unfamiliar and unknown our first response is often self-protective.  This is not a bad thing.  This is part of our inherited survival instincts.  This first response is a “fight/flight/freeze” response which bypasses the pre-frontal cortex, the area of the brain where we make choices, and sets us up for a defensive or offensive reaction.  I think some of what we have labeled “prejudice” is this sort of autonomic reaction to an unfamiliar situation.  With this understanding, I believe we need to cut ourselves and others a bit of slack when encountering the unfamiliar.

I can learn to recognize a reflexive reaction and I’m finding that if I can find that “pause” place until my pre-frontal cortex comes on line, I can make a kindlier considered response which is more reflective of my chosen values to be respectful and to “live and let live.”

In our growing understanding of the development of our brain we can find a new freedom to choose a better way to relate to ourselves and others.  Rather than condemning what we now know as survival adaptations, like the reactive response to a perceived threat, we can learn to become more aware of what is reflexive and what is chosen behavior.  With that awareness we can focus our conscious attention on choosing behaviors that move us toward what we want.  The more we can fulfill those inner Quality World pictures that are our sense of what we want that will meet our needs, the more we will enjoy a higher quality of mental health and happiness.

The only way to win is not to play!

Dr. Ken Larsen


I remember the film “War Games” where a rogue computer was waging a simulated Thermonuclear war between the US and the USSR.  The outcome was a doomsday scenario where everyone was destroyed.  The only way they were able to get the computer to stop was to entice it to play Tic Tac Toe.  The computer soon recognized the futility of the game, where every move resulted in a counter move with no possibility of a clear victory.  The computer extrapolated this insight into the Thermonuclear simulation and quickly recognized that there was no possibility for either side to win.  The computer concluded wisely, “the only way to win is not to play!”

I believe we need that insight in today’s world, especially in our nation with its upcoming very critical elections.

We’ve looked at the truth of “the world is divided by those who think they are right.”

Yet many of us continue the rancorous battle between opposing points of view without realizing the utter futility of the ongoing argument, pitting opinion against opinion, generating far more heat than light.

What would happen if all of us would pause and reflect on what is good and true and beautiful for each of us?  What do we value, where do we find love and light and life?  What if we were to stop attacking those with a different point of view, accepting that there are differences and that our differences can make up the diversity that makes life interesting?

Maybe we could even talk about what we cherish and value, owning what we say as ours, not trying to be right and make others wrong, but just interested in sharing what is good in life with one anotherOnce we have some clarity within ourselves, we can vote with those values in mind.

I suspect that the impact on our personal and on our collective mental health and happiness would be profoundly positive.

To paraphrase G.K. Chesterton, peaceful acceptance of one another has not been tried and found wanting.  It has been found difficult and not tried.

I’m willing to try this.  How about you?

Well Done! Good Job! ‘Ata girl!

by Nancy S Buck, PhD, RN

My very first job evaluation occurred six months after starting my very first job as a professional nurse in a private psychiatric hospital. My boss and evaluator was the psychiatrist of the Day Hospital in the second oldest private psychiatric hospital in the country. He told me that I was performing up to expectation and had made no errors. He had no complaints.

I was confused and unhappy with this evaluation. What had I done well? Where were areas for growth and improvement? Did I add any value to the team? Were there particular skills I could improve? Did I bring any gifts and where were my challenges? None of these questions were answered or even addressed. I didn’t realize these were questions I had and feedback I craved until after the evaluation was complete. Nothing more could be done at this point because Dr. M had checked me off his “to do”list.

Six months later I was sitting with Dr. M again, this time for my first yearly review. He gave me the same kinds of answers and feedback that he had at our first meeting. This time I was prepared though. This time I asked for feedback on what I was doing well, what contribution he felt I was making, and where did he recommend I could improve the quality of my work.

His answer left me confused and unhappy yet again. He said he could not provide me with these answers. The fact that I needed and wanted this kind of feedback indicated that I was young and inexperienced. He then showed me to the door, and checked this task off his “to do”list yet again.

Based on his feedback I gave this a great deal of thought and self-reflection. It was true that I was young and inexperienced. It was also true that my parents provided me with their feedback which included my strengths and areas to focus for growth and learning. So had all of my teachers.

By the time my second yearly evaluation was pending I still was interested in feedback I could use as information to self-evaluate. Maybe I was young and inexperienced, and I still wanted information to help me do my job well. I went into this evaluation prepared to get what I wanted.

Dr. M started the review as he had previously. Once he completed sharing with me all his “satisfactory”checks on the list for employee job performance review he looked at me. I was ready.

Dr. M, can you provide me with any additional feedback regarding the quality of my work

He shook his head no, bent elbows resting on his chair, and folded hands blocking his mouth. My advanced skills at reading non verbal communication led me to believe he planned on saying nothing further.

I would still like this kind of feedback. Perhaps it is because I’m young and inexperienced, but I would find it helpful. Here is my plan that I want to share with you before I implement it. I’m going to ask my work colleagues to please provide me with immediate feedback when and if they see me doing a particularly good job. I would like the same kind of immediate feedback if anyone notices when I do something that could be improved upon. I ask that people share the improvement bit in private.

Do you have any objection to my plan, Dr. M? 

He did not.

What happened next was amazing and very satisfying. At our next team meeting (we had these meeting twice a day) I shared with my colleagues what I wanted and asked if they felt they could offer me this feedback.

Yes! was the unanimous reply. And EVERYONE else on the team stated they would like the same feedback given to them.

WOW! The age range of our team was great, some young, some middle and some older. The experience range was equally diverse. Perhaps my desire for feedback was not related to my age or lack of experience.

I learned a lot of things from that life lesson. I learned that what I want does not matter less because of my boss’s opinion. It does not matter more than what other people want including my boss. But it does matter.  And it is my job to figure out how to get what I want.

The biggest lesson I learned was this. Asking for what I want takes courage. And asking for what I want increases the chances that I will get what I want.