Good day, team.
This week’s challenge is about learning to respond rather than react. Here’s how I see the difference: When we respond to a situation, there is an element of thought behind the process. We take some time to think about what we want to say or do beforehand. When we react, we simply act from whatever thought or emotion is predominant without much awareness or consideration.
I put my foot in my mouth. We all know that phrase; it’s when we say something that we wish we hadn’t. It usually happens when we simply react and blurt out a comment that we haven’t put much thought into. This often happens when we have a negative reaction to something ― for example, when we feel defensive. When someone provokes me, I tend to react strongly, and the words that come out of my mouth can be combative.
In contrast, if we take a bit of time to think about what we really want to communicate, we might get a better result. Our thinking time might only be three seconds, but those seconds can mean the difference between saying something you regret and communicating something that leads to a much better discussion. The trick here is in the timing. Our emotional reactions are incredibly quick, and our rational thinking often takes a few moments to catch up.
So how do we develop an internal pause button that allows us to take a breath and think about how we want to respond? Here are some suggestions for finding the space needed to think before we speak:
Recognize the stimulus. What’s triggering your reaction? Through self-awareness, we can see what makes our heart rate rise, what makes our breathing become shallow, what makes our thoughts immediately turn negative. Most people get defensive about the same things again and again. After repeated observations, you can learn to predict when you’re going to react negatively to something someone else does or says. Recognizing these triggers is key to learning to respond reasonably in the moment rather than reacting.
Who is reacting? After many years of observing my thoughts, I can recognize the aspects of myself that react to various situations. For example, one part of me always reacts the same way when I feel judged, pushing me to quickly voice justification for my actions. The sad part is, I may think someone is judging me when they’re actually not. Then my defensive reaction makes no sense. If I can recognize my defensive feelings when they arise, I have an opportunity to pause and find another way to respond that isn’t so defensive.
Be present and press pause. If we can be present in the moment when a stimulus provokes us, we have a much better chance of pausing before we react. One way to be more present is to put your awareness in some part of your body – I usually try to feel my feet. This awareness grounds me and allows me to see what’s happening with others as well as within myself. It gives me that small moment when I can pause, breathe and find a place of neutrality from which to respond.
Speak from mindfulness. Speaking from a more thoughtful place creates a world of difference. How often do you wish that you’d thought something through before you commented on it? Waking up at 2 a.m. with regrets about the things you said the day before is not fun. Lying awake for the next three hours rehearsing what you should have said is even worse. Try allowing your brain to influence your thoughts so that what comes out of your mouth has a better outcome.
Timing is everything. My father always used to say, “Think before you speak.” What he didn’t say was how to do that. In our everyday interactions, words travel swiftly between us, and we often don’t think about what’s being said. Taking the time to pause and ponder never harms any conversation. We can always stop for a moment ― no one is timing us ― to bring awareness to our thoughts and feelings before we actually speak.
This week, try experimenting with some of these suggestions in your dealings with others. Can you give yourself permission to pause? What do you experience when someone pushes your buttons? How many voices do you see within yourself and which ones serve you rather than degrade you? What’s the most useful thing you can say in the moment that will add value to the conversation rather than take away from it?
Just because you think it doesn’t mean you have to say it. Thoughts arise like fireflies on a summer night. They seem to come out of nowhere, flit and flicker for a few moments, and then disappear. These creatures can be quite compelling ― just like our thoughts ― but that doesn’t mean that one firefly is better than another. It requires a mindful presence to see which thoughts are worth expressing and which ones you can allow to fly away.
Have a good week!
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