Thought is Action in Rehearsal

Some years ago I read a book called Make a Life Not Just a Living written by Dr Ron Jenson.

The merits of the books are too numerous to list here. Suffice to say that if you haven’t yet read the book, you missed something wonderful. I trust you will repair the omission speedily.  However, I digress.

Dr Jenson talks about writing full time. This naturally meant that he would be home all day, in his partially secluded study, hammering away at the keys. Not accustomed to find him always at hand, his wife got into the habit of walking in to discuss minor household issues all through the day.

If you are a writer, I can see you going up the wall.

To another person it is just a second of disturbance. To someone who is trying to clothe a nebulous and elusive thought in words, that just a second of distraction spells the difference between getting it down and losing it forever. And when you lose it forever you spontaneously go into your bear with a sore paw routine. In fact, bears with sore paws are amiable creatures compared to you when a just a second of someone’s inane disturbance has caused you to lose the most perfect thought forever.

Dr Jenson spoke to his wife about it. I will let you guess the tone and pitch of that speaking. The strategy failed. She kept doing what he had told her ordered her rudely not to.

Action speaks louder than words but not nearly as often.

~ Mark Twain

He spoke to her again and again, and AGAIN. No dice. Mrs Jenson could NOT understand what the song and dance was all about. Surely he could spare a few seconds? What was the big deal?

At last, Dr Jenson explained to her what happens when she just walks into his study with some minor query. If he had done this right in the beginning, he’d have been much happier because she got it instantly! Oh yes, I assure you she did. Instanter!

They decided that she would not disturb him for the minor shall we have mutton stew or lightly sautéed chicken breast for dinner kind of queries. But when a biggie like shall I shoot the gardener because he refuses to listen to reason turns up, she was surely welcome to spend a few minutes discussing the best firearm to use.  

All good, yeah?

Not so fast!

Unfortunately, by then Dr Jenson had already got into a trigger mode. The moment the study door handle turned, he would be triggered into a towering temper. Instantly. Even before his wife had walked in or spoken a word about the issue that had brought her there. Tricky? Tricky is not a word I would use. I can imagine a spirited woman reacting to this kind of unreasonableness. Tricky hardly begins to cover it.

And before you turn up your nose in the air and tut- tut over Dr Jenson, let me assure you, you do it also. There are a score of instances in which you fall into a habitual response pattern. A particular sequence which is played out frequently, triggers you into responding in a certain way even before the whole event has played out. Though sometimes positive, these habitual responses are usually undesirable.

Everything you are used to, once done long enough, starts to seem natural, even though it might not be.

~ Julien Smith

Being a wise man, Dr Jenson realized that he was being irrational, arbitrary and downright stroppy. He was showing his wife that he resented her presence. He was showing her that he didn’t care for her concerns- or her feelings. Ergo, that he didn’t love her.

That was the very opposite of what he wanted to communicate to her. Dr Jenson, I am sure, was stumped. But he didn’t give up.

He realized he would need to change his habitual response pattern. Through repetition, he had got into the habit of flying off the handle when the door handle was turned. He would need to replace the automatically triggered response to something else if he was to stop hurting his beloved wife.

While intent is the seed of manifestation, action is the water that nourishes the seed. Your actions must reflect your goals in order to achieve true success.

~ Steve Maraboli

For many days then, so he writes in his book, he created an imaginary exercise. He imagined his wife walking in when he was engrossed in writing. Instantly, he would get very angry. He would quash his anger and speak to her as he wanted to speak to her… gently and lovingly. He kept replaying this scenario in his mind over and over. Slowly, he stopped getting triggered into anger by the turning of the door handle. Instead, he replaced anger with feelings of supportive love and concern because he knew how much the person turning the door handle meant to him.

He replaced an inappropriate reaction with one that was nurturing and loving. He did it by mentally- and in his imagination- rehearsing an alternative action. I suppose this is what Freud meant when he said:

Thought is Action in Rehearsal.

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Thought is Action in Rehearsal

58 thoughts on “Thought is Action in Rehearsal”

    1. Well, I do react when someone disturbs me while I’m writing. If I’m deep into the story, I jump. But thankfully, I don’t jump at the throat of the one who disturbs me.

      A bit delayed but am numero veinticuatro instead of tres 😛

      1. I, I’m ashamed to say, do get exasperated at times. Specially when I’ve told everyone in the house that I am writing something complicated so please don’t disturb unless the house in on fire. 😀

        A ‘bit’ delayed? 🙂

  1. You maze me every single time with your words. And yes, I am guilty of this this habitual response pattern. Especially with kids. And trust me every time the damage is already done, I curse myself and promise that it’ll not be repeated. Only to fail. 🙁

    1. But now that you know a tried and tested method of changing your default programming, you will not fail anymore. I know you wont!

      As far as kids are concerned Rekha, is there a parent in the world who can say they haven’t made mistakes or that their parenting has been perfect? Look at all you do and forgive yourself for the few errors you’ve made. Tomorrow is another day, isn’t it? And it’ll be a better day than yesterday… wont it? 😀

      1. Thank you Dagny! Yes, now that I know how to handle my response behavior, I’ll be careful.

        Tomorrow definitely has to be better because I have put at stake a lot and taken a decision keeping the girls as my priority. I pray that I do not fail as a parent and as a human being. Thank you once again! Your words give me a lot of strength. 🙂

        1. As long as we do our best as parents Rekha… that’s the much we can do. One thing I try to remind myself of is, our parents weren’t very ‘aware’ parents. They surely made mistakes. But we didn’t break, did we? We turned out excellent human beings, right?

          So will our kids be… inspite of a few errors on our part. I think we expect too much of ourselves. Hugs..! <3

  2. The post drove a nail home, bang, bang, bang, stroke after unfailing stroke. I’d be remiss to state I’ve not been guilty of that same sin on occasions. I guess I’m proud too I’ve already replaced the bile with saner juices to some extent. Perhaps I am blessed with much more rational companions. Thank you for an excellent read.

    1. Umashankar,

      I am not surprised you have gained wisdom and have realized the bile is hardly the thing to bring up. 🙂

      One’s companions, I have found, are usually as rational as one is… barring exceptions. You may take some credit for part of that rationality too. 🙂

      Thank you for coming by. I am pleased to find you back 🙂

  3. A post that makes a very pertinent point. Alas, I’ve also realized this many times in the past and rectified my behavior. Indeed, often, the people we love the most bear the brunt of our unwarranted bitterness and anger. It’s just that the situations pan out in a certain way and we react as we’ve become conditioned to. This post is a great reality check for each one of us to snap out of it.

    1. One thing I’ve never understood- or appreciated- is when people justify their rudeness and bad behavior by saying, “If I don’t take it out on you, who will I take it out on?” It is like being close to you is a punishment to me. All your good behavior, your courtesy and kindness is reserved for others because you need to toe the line with them. But me, you can take for granted, trample all over and use as a punching bag- because I love you and I will forever ‘understand’!!

      That is SO very unfair! It should be the other way round! Because I love you and you love me, you should give me the best of what you have, not the worst. Once in a way you will not be able to control yourself and so will let lose on me. But that doesn’t mean you dont need to make it up to me, or to apologize to me. Don’t assume that I will naturally forgive you.

      I bet you nodded to that. 😀 Yes? 😀 😀

      1. I nodded and almost broke my neck :D. I love you, Dagny! You don’t know how much perspective your post gave me today. I even shared it with my husband and son. Thank God for able hands that remind us of things that we forget so often.

        1. One of these days, we’re going to meet and I’ll give you the biggest hug you’ve ever got in your life. Thank you for validating me. Thank you for letting me know that my words resonated with you. That I love you and respect you, need hardly be said. Hugsss…! <3

  4. Some lovely food for thought in this particular post, as always Dagny. Yes, despite the fact that we all have conditioned responses ready for situations, it always helps if we stop for a second, think, reflect on why we are reacting the way we are. And this post is just the clarion call that all of us readers needed to stop, think, reflect and then react.

  5. I am amazed. I just write two guest posts – one on how knee-jerk our attitudes and behavior are due to conditioning AND one on how virtue and sin (AND happiness) is in the mind and I find a piece by you which is a sort of first cousin to my posts (and a much better looking first cousin 🙂 ).

    The problem is acute for those who cannot even see anything wrong with their behavior (“Of course, she knows I love her and my yelling was only the irritation of the moment” 🙂 Much like it was not enough for her to know that interrupting him at work was not right ONLY on the basis of his say-so and needed explanations. People do seem to think that THEY need to be told everything BUT the other person is equipped with telepathy and knows EXACTLY what is in their minds 🙂 ). Those who can see what is wrong do need to understand the roots of their behavior and devise means to correct it.

    1. Suresh,

      As I said to Rachna, I’ve never understood- or appreciated- is when people justify their rudeness and bad behavior by saying, “If I don’t take it out on you, who will I take it out on?” It is like being close to you is a punishment to me. All your good behavior, your courtesy and kindness is reserved for others because you need to toe the line with them. But me, you can take for granted, trample all over and use as a punching bag- because I love you and I will forever ‘understand’!!

      That is SO very unfair! It should be the other way round! Because I love you and you love me, you should give me the best of what you have, not the worst. Once in a way you will not be able to control yourself and so will let lose on me. But that doesn’t mean you dont need to make it up to me, or to apologize to me. Don’t assume that I will naturally forgive you.

      You are so sensible that I you just about take my breath away. As for the ‘better’ looking cousin bit, that is just you being kind. Your posts are always very profound and full of basic common sense.

      So glad you read this one. 🙂

  6. Yes this was beautiful and a learning to keep. Just yesterday I vented out some frustration on someone close and said if not you, who will I take it out on? By evening I had regretted it. I had marred a perfect relationship with those dark words which had nothing to do with that person. This post helped me put things into a perspective. You always manage to do that for many of us Dagny 🙂

    1. We all do it, I guess. We reserve our most callous and uncaring selves for those we love the most. Hopefully though, wisdom dawns before too much damage is done. I think this faulty conditioning is given to us by our elders. We see them doing it to each other and we think this is how it is supposed to be.

      Thanks Seeta! 🙂

      1. Or we just take those people for granted. I am slowly and steadily learning that nobody should be taken for granted, everyone have their limits and we have no right to test them.

        1. That’s one of the most profound lessons for us to learn Seeta. I am sure none of us want to hurt people we love.

          We may have the ‘right’ to hurt them… as in, they may not retaliate, but why on earth should we want to hurt them? That doesn’t seem loving at all.

  7. How do you do that Dagny? With such ease you put forth such important tit bits of life? I don’t know what to say but I often see husbands venting all their frustration on their wives..even those loving husbands.. because they feel if not the wife then whom, after all she is there to make their lives easy..this last part they often don’t say aloud but its there in their subconscious…And then I feel why? It shouldn’t be so…

    1. It shouldn’t be so certainly. Naba. I have always believed that when I interact with someone I love, my interaction should leave them in no doubt that I love them and cherish them. Anything which says the opposite of that, is an error that is my responsibility to correct as quickly as possible.

      As I said to Seeta, we take our loved ones for granted because that’s the conditioning we’ve received from our elders. We saw them doing it to each other and so we think that’s how it is supposed to be.

      But it isn’t. It is just wrong.

  8. I hate it when someone runs their fingers through my hair and always react with irritation. In fact, there’s so much I need to rehearse to get rid of my trigger response
    Thank you, Dagny for sharing your positivity. You always make me want to be a better person.

    1. Purba, You’ve already got a halo. If you become better, you’ll be God. 🙂

      On a serious note, thank you. I am very gratified.

  9. Dagny, It’s a message for me. I have triggers (and even those are not healthy ones!) and I hurt my loved ones. I tell myself, the first step is to keep my mouth shut but, alas! sooner or later the mouth zipper explodes! And then it is remorse time. 🙁

    1. Poornima, they say the best cop is a reformed thief. So also with me.

      There was a time when I had a lousy, horrible temper. And when annoyed, I just could not keep my mouth shut. The vitriol that poured forth would shrivel on contact. Naturally, it was those closest to me who got the worst of it.

      When wisdom dawned- as it inevitably does sooner or later- I knew I had to change. I could not do this to those who mattered the most to me.

      The first step was to promise myself that no matter what the provocation, I will not open my mouth when I am angry. In the past 15 years, I have broken this promise three times. I am not too happy at having ‘fallen off the wagon’ thrice, but on the other hand, it is better than forever being off the wagon.

      I’ve found that keeping my mouth shut harms me a lot less than speaking in a temper does. There is always time to clarify later, when your anger has cooled off. In addition, reading this incident in Dr. Jenson’s book helped me a great deal. It just connected so well with me that I decided to emulate it.

      I ‘manufacture’ a lot fewer causes for remorse nowadays. 🙂

      So glad you could connect with this..! 😀

  10. Superb! I get this…and I have practiced this…it surely helps but it really requires focussed attention to your own reaction/behaviour…most of us are not natural in bringing in that emotion.

    1. You are so right Kajal. When we are angry and hurt, our first impulse is to hit back. It takes immense effort of will to control that retaliatory instinct.
      Thanks a lot for coming by! 🙂

  11. Your comments are as valuable as this post.
    Why, only yesterday I was upset when the husband turned the door knob twice just when I was about to hammer the keys. I need complete silence when I am writing. Any noise or disturbance irks me no end. I will remember this post and not take my loved ones for granted. Thank you.

    1. Alka, Thank you for your ‘from the heart’ comment. Please also ensure that your loved ones don’t take you for granted. it is also our duty to educate by example, those who matter the most to us.

      Thank you for your validating comment. I am thrilled you found value in this post and in the interaction. Hugs! <3

  12. I think I have said this before, but I will say this again. Thank you for your posts Dagny. Thank You.
    This was so thought provoking and such an eye opener. We all have such triggers. Our reactions to certain events and people are almost as if programmed. And unless we change our thoughts, our reactions are not going to change.

    1. Thank you immensely Ruchira. It feels absolutely fabulous to have mature and sensible people like you endorse my work. Thank you for this validation. I am happy… more than happy… that you could find value in this post. Your words humble me.

  13. Dagny , there are pearls of wisdom in every post of yours and I dont have to dive deep below to find them. Engrossed in my own schedule , I put my heart and soul into every action and when ‘disturbed’ by my son , I now keep aside my work to listen to him for sometime. I then remind him of my work on hold. It works for both of us. But takes a lot of time and effort to implement it. Practice makes a man perfect.

    1. You have already conquered an unruly demon then. How wonderful it is. I know it must take immense patience and self- control to do this consistently. But surely you will reap rich dividends from this when your son is grown up and treats his loved ones with the respect they deserve.

      It feels so good to read your comment. God bless you!

  14. I figure most of these undesirable response mechanisms get aimed at people who care for us. Now that I have read your post, I realize how silly it is for me to do so.
    Good pointers there on how to control that instant relfex…even if the intention was not to hurt anyone intentionally to begin with.

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