Ever blamed someone else for the way you reacted? Maybe you lost your temper and said some harsh words. Maybe you did something you knew would frustrate them. Maybe you literally punched someone in the face.
You were provoked. That’s why you reacted. Someone pushed your buttons and you responded. They “made” you do it, right?
When someone else makes us mad, we often feel like we don’t have control over our actions.
But we do.
No one can make you do anything without your permission. You have more control over your reactions than you realise.
What Makes Us Act?
The way these situations develop isn’t complicated… but it is more than a simple cause-effect relationship. Between our observation and response, an entire path unfolds. This is The Path to Action.
The Path to Action is simply a way for us to look at what sequentially happens between our stimulus and response. And for most of us, this happens in a nanosecond:
- I see or hear something. (That’s what they did.)
- I tell a story about the action I observed.
- That story drives my feelings.
- The feelings drive my response.
It sounds simple enough when we slow it down, but because we travel this path so rapidly, we often miss the story.
Here’s what we usually assume causes our actions:
- I see or hear something…
- Which makes me feel a certain way…
- Which causes me to react.
In this assumption, we mistakenly skip a key step in our path — the story we tell.
In reality, how you feel is not a function of what you see and experience. It’s not what someone says or does that causes your feelings. Instead, your feelings are a function of the story you tell yourself about what you see and experience.
These stories come from our assumptions about the things we don’t know. These stories fill in the blanks about why they said or did that. And it’s these stories that drive our feelings and actions.
How Telling a New Story Can Better Your Actions
If you have ever used the phrase, “They pushed my buttons,” I’ve got news for you: They didn’t. In reality, it was the assumptions you made about your experience that pushed your buttons.
Eleanor Roosevelt realised this truth years ago when she said, “No one can hurt you without your permission.” What you see and hear has to go through a filter.
What’s the filter?
The story you tell.
Don’t miss the story. It’s instrumental in guiding your Path to Action. It’s not the experience that produces your feelings — it’s the story. To me, understanding the role of the story has been revolutionary in how I look at confrontations.
Next time you face a confrontation — a situation where you’re tempted to lose your temper —ask yourself, “What story am I telling myself? What assumptions am I making?”
You may find that you’re assuming the worst, not the best, about the other person’s intentions. Instead, ask yourself, “Why would a reasonable, rational, decent person do this?” Then, begin to form a new story that more likely reflects the truth.
When we control the stories, we control our feelings. And consequently, we’re able to make better choices about the way we act in response — even in a split second.