Success does not happen in one big moment, but rather in thousands and thousands of millisecond decisions. I don’t care if we are talking about career success, marriage success, family success, or friendship / relationships success. Success happens based on how we react to things that happen, things that are said, events that surprise us.
When someone says something to us, especially in surprising or emotional way, most of us react without thinking. But there is a gap between action and reaction — if we choose to take it — that can put the optimist on a more advantageous path.
Stephen Covey points out that we have the option, the choice, to think before we react. The few people that practice this skill and master it wind up making better decisions. These decisions are like small but very important course corrections as we travel through life.
Let me offer just two examples:
Imagine a salesman, Fred, is approached by VP of Engineering at one of his customer’s facilities. The VP, red-faced and obviously agitated, confronts Fred and tells him that his products “suck” poking a finger at his chest. Fred has a moment to succeed or fail with how he reacts next. If he is defensive, he will lose the customer, or worse yet, a promotion when the event winds up on his manager’s lap. This small moment could be the catalyst that changes a promising career into a painful job hunt.
But Fred knows he can decide how he reacts, and choose to take a deep breath before asking “What’s wrong with my products and how can I help make things better?” with sincere concern. He finds a quality issue, jumps into action, gets replacements expedited, and earns the respect of the red-faced VP. The VP realizes that Fred is a guy he can count on, and winds up expanding the relationship between the two firms. All this happens because of a calm choice in the matter of a millisecond.
Here is another scenario. Imagine Gracie, a soccer player in the waning moments of a championship game, intercepting a poorly struck clearance by the opposing defense. The impulse is to shoot immediately as the defenders rush at her, with the game on the line. Everyone on the sidelines is screaming for the shot as the last seconds tick off the clock. Gracie realizes that this will be the last shot and she needs to make it count. She fakes the shot, pushes the ball wide of the charging defenders, gives herself a superior angle while drawing the goal keeper toward the near post, then calmly sends the ball into the opposite post netting. In a calm millisecond, she was quick but did not hurry, and that one play wins the championship, wins her scholarship, and changes the fate of many of the teammates on her team.
These millisecond junctures define our relationships, at work, at home, and with friends. These milliseconds of clear headed thinking are the difference between success and failure in sports, in sales, in school. The first step to get better at it is to anticipate what might happen before it does. You can then decide what you will do if X happens, when you have more time. Learn to think calmly, learn that you do not have to meet anger with anger, learn that you have the choice of answering instantly or after a few seconds of consideration, learn tricks to make a bit of time in the heat of the moment, learn to put yourself in the other person’s shoes, and you will find greater success and optimism in all facets of your life.
Master the Millisecond Gap!
I.M. Optimism Man