The Power of Response-ability
As with your imagination and your emotions, your instinctive reactions also determine your levels of success and failure.
How you react on impulse to people, events, ideas, and even yourself can either set you on the path to success and freedom, or it can imprison you behind the bars of limitation and thoughtlessness.
The truly successful know this. They know life isn’t determined by the cards you are dealt, but by how well you play them. They know and fully understand the line from Kenny Roger’s song, The Gambler, that every hand’s a winner and every hand’s a loser.
They therefore take responsibility for all their successes and failures.
Successful people take responsibility for who they are, for what they want, and for how they behave.
Successful people, on the whole, are people that I call response-able. They tend to respond with thoughtfulness and consideration. They have a ‘responsive mindset’.
Unsuccessful people, on the other hand, are generally reflexive. They tend to react unthinkingly and without due concern. They have a ‘reactive mindset’.
If you’ve seen any of the Loony Tunes cartoons created by Chuck M. Jones, you’ll be familiar with his characters, Bugs Bunny, Sylvester, Tweety Bird, Foghorn Leghorn, Yosemite Sam, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, and more.
With his suave, cool, calm, unfazed demeanor, always ready to quip, “Whatsup, Doc?” Bugs Bunny gives the impression that he always has everything under control and that everything will turn out for the best.
Daffy Duck, on the other hand, is forever frustrated, as though nothing is under control, that everything is always working against him, and that if anything can go wrong it inevitably will.
When asked in an interview which of his creations he was most alike, Chuck M. Jones replied that he always wished he was Bugs Bunny. But in reality, he was Daffy Duck.
I like to think that Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck characterise the two types of mindsets we’re discussing, responsive mindset and reactive mindset respectively.
Bugs Bunny responds thoughtfully and calmly to each situation. Daffy Duck is quick to react unthinkingly and reflexively.
In medical terminology, a reflex is an action that bypasses the higher centres of the brain.
For instance, you might have seen video footage of a doctor tapping the knee of a patient with a patella hammer to check the patient’s knee reflex, or you might have even had a doctor do this to you.
When the patella (knee cap) tendon is tapped, the muscle spindle in the quadriceps muscle at the front of the thigh is stretched, which produces a nerve signal that travels up to the spinal cord at the level of L3 (3rd lumbar spine).
This signal returns or ‘bounces back’ to the quadriceps muscle at the front of the thigh, triggering a contraction—causing the foot to kick. This all happens independently of the brain, without any thought.
Unfortunately, we can spend a great deal of our lives in such an unthinking, reflexive state. We can spend a lifetime reacting to the world independently of our brains, without any thought.
Reflexively reacting to others, the world, and ourselves without engaging your brain, however, is not the best strategy for success.
Habits can fall into this category, especially if they are self-sabotaging habits. Research in the past decade has revealed that approximately 40% of our daily activities are not decision-based. Rather, they are repetitions, or habits. [Society for Personality and Social Psychology. “How we form habits, change existing ones.” ScienceDaily, 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/08/140808111931>.]
This means that a significant portion of our day is controlled by habits that we’ve developed over much of our lifetime, and this implies that 40% of the waking day we’re not actually thinking about what we’re doing. The left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing, as the saying goes.
If we’ve developed good habits that help us achieve our goals, then this isn’t such a bad thing. But if we’ve developed bad habits that get in the way of achieving our goals, then we probably need to do something about our unthinking behaviours.
The Power of Habits
Let’s use the example of going to the gym to achieve your goal of getting fitter and losing weight.
For 22 years I managed to go to the gym on average 3 times a week. Some weeks I went 5 times, some weeks only 2, but on average over the course of 22 years I consistently worked out 3 times a week.
Although it was a difficult habit to start (for much of my young adult life I preferred bars and nightclubs to the gym), once the habit was ingrained it was more difficult to stop going than not go at all.
But then I had a disc prolapse. A simple, lift and twist movement getting out of the car caused the disc between L4 and L5 to suddenly squeeze between the vertebrae and protrude into my spinal canal, impinging on my lower spinal nerves.
The sciatic pain shooting down both legs was beyond excruciating, and without doubt the worst pain I’ve ever experienced. I couldn’t walk without collapsing in pain. I couldn’t stand. I couldn’t lie down. I couldn’t sit.
Nothing I did over the next couple of months could ease the pain. I tried acupuncture and kinesiology, to no avail. Even bucket loads of prescription medication barely touched the edges.
Needless to say, I was severely sleep-deprived and continually on edge, anticipating even the slightest movement to trigger unbearable, neurogenic pain.
My neurosurgeon said it was one of the largest disc prolapses he’d seen on the MRI scan in over 20 years, and he has often used my scans at surgical conferences around the world as a case of extreme prolapse.
For weeks after the initial injury, he was sharpening his knives and doing all he could to persuade me to have an operation, but I refused, preferring to wait it out and only go to surgery if there was a neurological emergency.
As it transpired, the pain continued unabated for about 4 months before my body started to heal itself. The prolapse slowly shrunk and the pain started to improve. At least I could get a good night’s sleep.
After about 8 months, I was virtually pain-free, and within the year I was on the Colorado slopes skiing with my family.
But by this time a bad habit had set in. Early on in my injury, I rang my gym to put my membership on hold for 6 months while I recovered. So for half a year, instead of hitting the gym and working out, I raided the fridge and started clearing out the contents of the pantry.
This continued for 2 years, and I probably added 10 kilograms to my frame that wasn’t there when the injury originally happened. Even though the gym membership restarted after the 6-month medical hiatus, I didn’t return, too fearful that the workout would cause a recurrence of my disc prolapse. At least that was the excuse.
The truth was, I had fallen into a bad habit of not exercising. In fact, I had swapped a good habit of exercising 3 times a week for a bad habit of daily ‘excusasising’.
They say you become good at what you do often, and I could now rattle off a good excuse faster than I was gaining inches around my waist.
Unfortunately, even as I became pain-free and my movements returned to normal, I still allowed fear to do the talking. It was an irrational fear because I had been skiing, swimming, bicycle riding, and even body surfing.
But it was convenient, and I spent over 2 years driving past the gym on my way home rather than pulling into the car park and walking up the stairs and through the doors to do a workout.
The situation, I knew, wouldn’t improve until I improved my mindset and accept that the only thing stopping me exercise was myself.
I had allowed myself to fall into a habit of reactive convenience where it was easier not to do exercise and let my fitness slide, whereas before my injury it had been easier to do regular exercise and maintain a healthy fitness level.
I was able to kickstart my fitness habit of regular gym attendance when I tackled my irrational fear of reinjuring my spine and calling it out for the over-exaggeration that it was.
Every time the voice of fear spoke to me—”Scott, you’re going to injure your back again.” “Do you really want to risk all that pain?” “You know it won’t take much for your back to pop again.”—I reminded myself of all the other physical exercise I’d been doing over the past year and silenced the fearful whining.
Convincing myself of the minimal risk of working out at the gym helped me to regain control of my thoughts. In particular, I was able to minimise the fearful thoughts that were continually obstructing me from getting fitter and healthier and to replace them with more positive thoughts that actively assisted me in my fitness and health goals.
What I learned from this 2-year period of inactiveness was this: Getting control over my irrational fears was an important step in regaining control over my thoughts and becoming response-able.
Which is why taking back control of your unthinking, reactive thoughts and actions—your reflexive habits—is essential if you want to take back control of your life and be more successful.
Relying on reactive habits is not a good strategy. A better strategy is to become response-able, and it works this way:
- When you are able to control your thoughts, you are able to control your emotions.
- When you are able to control your emotions, you are able to control your behaviour.
- And when you are able to control your behaviour, you are able to respond with appropriate action—you are response-able.
Only when you are response-able can you intentionally benefit the way you want to live and who you want to be.
If you don’t, if you continue to be reflexive and reactive, you will remain where you are, unable to move forward, stuck in the same routine, unable to progress toward your worthy ideal and manifest the success you deserve.
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Successful people realise that they must first become successful human beings if they are to truly find success in life. Who they are takes precedence. What they do is secondary.
So if it is your intent to be a successful person, it is imperative that you understand the effect that your imagination, emotions, and reactions have on your ability to progressively realise your worthy ideal and achieve the success you desire.
Failure to understand the impact and power of your imagination, emotions, and reactions is to court frustration and, ultimately, failure.
But one of the best strategies to take advantage of your 3 superpowers and become the person you are capable of becoming is to broaden your capacity and grow as a human being.
Your success is dependent on your personal growth. When you grow, your success grows.