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Reactions Matter

Epictetus (55-135 AD)

It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.

Epictetus, Greek Stoic Philosopher

Here we are, many of us, observing the stay at home orders that are designed to help keep all of us safe. Some have jobs deemed essential, others non-essential. Many, far too many, have lost their jobs altogether. No matter what type of job it was, for them, it was essential to their families, their sense of self-worth, and their well-being.

The Event

It has been said that there is nothing new under the sun. Also, others have noted that history is bound to repeat. As strange and as unprecedented the current pandemic is (in our lives), it must have happened before. Humankind has struggled through similar, and worse, catastrophes, emerging stronger and more resilient.

The Reaction

About 2000 years ago, the stoic Greek philosopher Epictetus observed that the reaction to the event is what matters. More recently, Jack Canfield (Chicken Soup for the Soul) turned this into a formula:

E + R = O

Event plus Reaction equals Outcome

I can’t control the event in which I find myself. But I must control my reaction to the situation. That is the only means I have to affect the outcome.

Now, this does not mean that you adopt a laissez-faire attitude, that you don’t care, that you will let it “work itself out,” or that you attempt to separate yourself from the event. You are in the event, and you are in the situation. You can’t change that.

The Outcome

When I was a navy helicopter pilot, if something went wrong with the machine while I was flying, or if I did not make a good decision, I had to deal with the consequence. I did not have a “pause” or “freeze” button. In the simulator I did. I could stop the event, reset, and start over. In real life, I could not change the event that I was in. But, I had control of my reaction.

Through preparation (study), training (in the simulator), and teamwork among my crew, the reaction was tailored to achieve the desired outcome. For us, in the helicopter, that outcome was to make a safe landing. When the weather was closing in on me, when one of my two engines failed, or when I found myself with less fuel in the tank then I needed; my reaction to these problems is what mattered to the outcome.

Reactions matter, so when something bad hapopens in the cockpit, pilots are told to "wind the clock."
Wind the Clock…
Before you React

As a side note, when confronted with an emergency situation or an event, an oft used phrase in naval aviation is to “wind the clock” before you respond and make a hasty reaction. This came from the 8-Day Clock in the cockpit, which required winding every eight days. The act of winding it was intended to slow you down so that your response to the emergency was focussed and appropriate. Otherwise, it could just make the problem worse.

The Complete Formula

If you find yourself now working from home, or if you find yourself home with no work, that is your event. If you are sick, or your loved one is, that is your event. When disaster strikes and you lose the things that you have worked so hard for, that is your event. The questions to ask, therefore, are: What is your reaction, and how will that reaction get you to the right outcome?

Reactions Matter, todays ActionLink. Look for more leadership principles and discussions from P H Tyson & Associates.

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