Unintended consequences are sometimes the hardest to accept. You didn’t mean to hurt their feelings. You didn’t mean to destroy property. You didn’t think that today’s actions would create fallout that could last for weeks, months, even years. But here you are. It was only a bit of harmless hijinks, right? It was only a careless comment on a stress-filled day. It was only an attempt to beat the traffic light. But that “only” something has created ripples, shards, torn fabric, broken eggs.
You didn’t mean for it to happen. You’re usually careful. And you thought you had considered all of the ramifications of doing whatever it was that you were doing. Well, maybe you didn’t. Maybe you missed some. And maybe you were so caught up in the dash through the house that you forgot to look out for Grandma’s favorite vase on the table. Now the vase is lying in shards on the floor, and it can’t be unbroken. Mended, perhaps. But even the best repair job will likely leave behind the shadows of the fractures from the fall, even if you can put the vase back together well enough to place it back on display.
Stimulus – response. We live in a world where reactions are immediate, impulsive, conditioned. If somebody runs, you chase them. If someone argues, you argue back. If you see a police cruiser with its lights on, you touch the brake pedal even if you know that you’re driving well within the speed limit. If only there were an internal pause button that would automatically stop that impulsive or conditioned behavior before the argument escalates, or before the vase breaks.
Inertia creates consequences too
Sometimes it seems easier, better perhaps, to develop a different habit – to observe a stimulus or a condition and then wait. Postpone. After all, you know about torn fabric and broken vases, and you wouldn’t want to do that. Maybe it will get better, or even go away entirely given enough time.
But inertia, inaction, has its own consequences. If you allow a few mistakes to go through without intervention, and you don’t intervene a few more times when it happens again, the lower quality becomes the standard. If you let a small fire burn long enough it will grow hotter and bigger until it consumes the building.
The internal pause button
The internal pause button doesn’t say “Stop!” It says “Wait a minute, think this through.” When you develop your internal pause button you resist the urge to react instantaneously out of old habits, but you do take action. That moment – or hour, or day depending upon the importance and the urgency of the needed response- allows you to take stock. You assess the impact of the known consequences. Then you make a decision and implement.
Do you tend toward the reactor, or are you more likely to behave like a postponer? No matter for the moment – just something to consider. You won’t be able to project all of the potential direct and indirect outcomes of any action, but you can at least enumerate the ones you know. You weigh the consequences of possible actions against one another and against the risk of inaction. Then you choose, and you implement. You evaluate the results of the first choice, and if it appears that you chose wrongly you choose again. The point here is to choose mindfully, to learn from the choosing, and within that learning cycle develop the speed that you need to change and grow. Without breaking vases.