Reflections at 40 – Whitespace – 37/40

To celebrate turning 40, I’ve challenged myself to blog for each of the 40 days leading into my birthday. This is post number 37. You can read all the posts here.

Between stimulus and response there is space.
In that space is our power to choose our response.
In our response lies our growth and freedom.

~ Victor E. Frankl

If there’s one thing the pace and distractions of the modern world has deprived us of, it’s that space in which we have the power to choose our response.

This makes us very reactive.

I’ve always found that when I’m reactive:

  • I make snap decisions rather than sound choices.
  • I’m snappy and irritable, and thus not the greatest person to be around.
  • I feel perpetually overwhelmed.

For years I’d prided myself on just how much I could get done in a day. The more organised I was, the more I could cram in. By tightly scheduling every minute of the idea, I ensured no idea or urge ever went to waste. No opportunity to say ‘Yes’ was missed.

People were impressed by this and I proudly proclaimed, ‘Busy isn’t bad so long as you enjoy the stuff you’re busy doing.’

While I did enjoy everything I was doing, I was also very reactive.

Then, one day I read an article by my friend Ange. It told the story of how she lost her license and was suddenly reliant on public transport to get everywhere. This drastically reduced the number of things she could commit to on any given day because it was now taking her twice as long to get anywhere.

Being reliant on public transport forced her to slow down.

Do less and be more.

She loved it.

I was intrigued.

While I wasn’t quite willing to start using public transport to get places, (come on, I live in Perth), I started factoring what I called ‘deliberate inefficiency’ into my days.

Instead of ringing the doctor to see if they were running on time, I’d show up at the booked time and if they were running late, so be it.

If I put my car in for a service for three hours, instead of heading straight to a café with my laptop and a long to-do list to smash through, I took a book. Or went for a walk.

I’d always used the hours of 7am to 8.30am to make breakfast, pack lunches, clean up from breakfast, put a load of washing on, hang a load of washing out, quickly check some emails, have a shower, get dressed, tidy up the living room and do whatever other chores I could fit into that time.

When I did my deliberate inefficiency experiment I reduced that back to: make breakfast, clean up from breakfast, have a shower and get dressed.

The nagging voice in my head that said, ‘You could be using this time so much better’ became easy to ignore because the benefits of being able to move slowly every morning quickly became apparent.

Stimulus: ‘Mum, I’ve got a spelling test today and I haven’t studied yet.’

Space in which to choose my response: Deep breath. Gentle sigh.

Response: ‘No worries mate, let’s have a look at the words now.’

Consciously carving out whitespace – space in which I got to consciously choose my response rather than simply reacting – was a revelation.

Emboldened, I created a few more pockets of time in my day where I could be deliberately inefficient.

  • The first 30 minutes after waking up in the morning.
  • The first 30 minutes once I got to the office.
  • The first 45 minutes after picking the kids up from school.
  • The hour after dinner.

Moving slowly at these points in my day meant if I had to ramp things up in other parts of my day, I could do so while still retaining the ability to choose my response. I’ve been better able to access my creativity, which is not just helpful from a writing point of view, but also from a problem-solving point of view.

Most importantly, however, I get to remember this every day:

In our response lies our growth and freedom.

That’s a little meditation anyone with a striver personality can appreciate.

A reminder that it’s us, and not our circumstances, that dictate whether we’re able to be the people we aspire to be.


Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash