Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. — Viktor Frankl

Consider these three approaches to interpreting our emotional states:

  1. “My feelings determine my actions.”
  2. “My feelings help determine my actions, but they are not the only factor.”
  3. “My feelings are important, but they do not determine my actions.”

Children (and childish adults) take the first approach. Most productive members of society embrace the second. Extraordinary people tend to use the third.

This kind of emotional management is part of elite training in many fields. The core concept is that instead of treating our feelings as a reflection of reality, we recognize that they are largely subjective and can be either heeded or ignored. We can then observe our emotional state dispassionately, like a therapist observing a client or a farmer watching a faraway storm roll in, before deciding how—or whether—to react.

Such an approach is a hallmark of top performers and those who have overcome extreme hardship—from astronauts to Auschwitz survivors. It is not an easy approach to put into practice, but it is a productive one.