Stimulus and Response

Stimulus and response

Victor Frankel writes, “Between the stimulus and the response there is a space, and in this space lies our power and our freedom.”

In our work with sales teams at Sales Academy Ltd., we found most sales people were in a hurry. They lived on the edge and many of them liked the cut and thrust of the action and the deals.

Many successful sales people worked on gut feel, deciding and acting on impulse in the heat of the moment. Although many of them thrived in this environment many of the results were achieved by lots of work rather than quality work. Some would literally throw mud at a wall hoping that some would stick.

Harder rather than Smarter was a popular way to behave and this almost standard approach left little space between stimulus and response.

It took a lot of work to slow people down but it was worth it.

In 25 years, we never met anyone who couldn’t improve their result by simply slowing down.

Slowing down and then looking carefully, thinking and finally responding helped everyone we met improve their results.

Pavlov to Skinner

In behavioural psychology we also come across the idea of stimulus and response. From Pavlov’s’ dogs to Skinners’ rats, experiment after experiment shows that adapted organisms can’t be involved in every choice they make. To survive we delegate vast tracks of our choices and decisions to our auto pilot and for many of us this is or certainly was a good survival technique.

Much of our activity is delegated to the unconscious realm and these automatic responses or reactions underpin our patterns of behaviour. Our behaviour patterns contribute to who we appear to be and what we achieve.

It’s worth considering how this operates for you and if it’s worth identifying and interrupting or changing some of the patterns that don’t give you what you want.


The idea of Stimulus and Response, is that something happens to stimulate us and then we respond.

Our phone beeps it’s an incoming text. Without thinking we stop what we are doing and pick the phone up. If it’s a text or notification we read on.

Before we know it, we are replying and we forget what we were doing before the beep.

In this case, there is no gap between the stimulus, the ‘beep’ and our response, pick up phone.

We react immediately without much thought on autopilot.

Understanding and acting on the fact that there is a gap available to any of us if we choose to enforce it between any stimulus and our response is a game changer.

You can use this choice and the gap you make to create options and alternatives that suit you better and transform your performance.

Someone who understands the stimulus response process and understands that many of the unexamined responses are based on automatic patterns has the freedom to make significant changes. Those who notice they are stressed and break their pattern of normal reaction (anger, sadness, frustration) may deliberately take a step back, extend the gap between stimulus and the response and choose alternative response options.

This is the start of the power of shifting our View Point process that we describe and practise at length in the book.

Stepping back, or drifting up gives you time to think and the distance to see things differently which in turn lets us think differently and act differently. All these are factors key to making positive changes.

To go on doing the same or even more of the same whilst expecting different results is one definition of insanity and yet our tendency to unconsciously react to incoming stimuli means many of us are doomed to continue to repeat habits and practices that just don’t work.

Compelling circumstances

The difference between being a victim, feeling that ‘circumstances compel you’ and stacking the odds in your favour by going out and ‘compelling circumstances’ requires a revaluation of our relationship with the stimuli we experience in everyday life. It requires a recalibration of when, how and even if we respond.

From watching our delegates over the years, it’s clear that breaking the links between stimulus and response is one of your key success levers as a human. Following through by creating specific effective and ready-made responses for the standard stimuli you experience enable you to react effectively even in the tensest of moments.

The Monkey Relationship

Nowhere is it more important to control a knee jerk reaction than in our internal landscape. Here distraction provided by our Monkey can act as powerful stimulus for us to respond quickly and without consideration. We may be in aware of the need not to do this externally but even the most capable can struggle when it starts internally. Internal stimulus can feel like they are us. It can take a while to think things through clearly enough to consider your Monkeys input as not you or not yours and something that you can decide to respond to or not.

As we set up our new partnership, we need to consider the impact that a change in response will bring. Ensuring the accepted method for working together is to extend the gap between any stimulus and your previous automatic responses is a great place to start.

As far as working with the Monkey is concerned, a gap between stimulus and response also creates the opportunity to ensuring we both agree on the analysis and any subsequent choice or decision and the necessity (or not) of any action.

Without this understanding however fleeting we build in conflict and waste energy.

Adding Value

Building a relationship with your Monkey will enhance your ability to see any stimulus and subsequent distraction for what it really is and what it really mean.

For some delegates it almost felt like they had to give themselves, or get permission not to respond immediately to everything.

Perhaps, of even more importance than the better choices and decision you will have time to make, the gap between stimulus and response gives you both the chance to shine. Working together in the new gap you create will provide you with incontrovertible proof that your Monkey can add value.

Knowing this will help you maintain the resolve to make the partnership work.