For those of you who haven’t heard of the term Pavlov’s dog, here is a brief explanation. Ivan Petrovich Pavlov was a Russian scientist who did an experiment on his dog’s. He would ring a bell just before feeding them, and after doing this several times he noted that just by ringing the bell his dog’s would start to salivate, even if there was no food. He called this a conditioned response, or stimulus-response.
So what does this have to do with us? Well, if you think about it carefully that’s exactly how us humans live our lives. We let external conditions determine how we live. According to Stephen R. Covey there are three theories of determinism.
- Genetic determinism – our behaviour is genetic and has been passed on to us by our grandparents.
- Psychic determinism – we behave the way we do because of the way our parents raised us.
- Environmental determinism – someone or something in our environment is responsible for our behaviour or situation. It could be our boss or the current economic situation.
An everyday example of stimulus-response is road rage. When someone cuts in front of you in traffic, do you automatically hit the hooter and start cursing and letting your emotions take over? Ever asked yourself why you respond that way? We can actually apply the stimulus-response theory to almost everything we do and say.
But we don’t have to be like Pavlov’s dog, we are humans, not animals. Our ability to choose how we respond to situations is what separates us from all the other living creatures on our planet. Animals can be trained to be responsible but they can’t take responsibility for the training. Look at the word responsibility – ‘response-ability’, the ability to choose our response.
When I first read about stimulus-response it made me feel very uneasy because I realised I was a reactive person. I blamed circumstances for my current situation, and I still do. But after thinking it through carefully I am where I am in life because of all the decisions I have made in the past. So I am now training myself to be a proactive person…
“Proactivity – As human beings we are responsible for our own lives. Our behaviour is a function of our decisions, not our conditions. We can subordinate feelings to values. We have the initiative and the responsibility to make things happen.” – taken from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey
…it’s quite a paradigm shift and I have a feeling there will be some difficult times ahead. But I believe I’m worth the effort.
I’ll try to share as much of the journey as I can…