All of us spend large chunks of our time interacting with others, and if not with others, we are always interacting with our environment and ourselves in some way. How we choose to play our part in these interactions has a massive effect on both us and others, and we can make it easier if we just take a breathspace to remind ourselves to respond rather than react.
A couple of examples have made me think of this recently:
- I tripped over my kittens playing in the hall and banged my head against the door lintel. I reacted by shouting at them for being in the way, feeling sorry for myself because it hurt, and just getting cross.
- Someone had emailed me to say that they had expected me to reply to their email more quickly than I did, and I reacted by mailing back to them that some of us don’t spend all our time checking for mails.
In both these examples, I made things worse for myself by reacting – blaming others, trying to make them feel bad, and leaving myself in a bad mood in the process. Was it worth it? A resounding no!
If I had just taken a breath, I would have realised sooner that I was tired and rushing, and the kittens were just doing their thing – what I really needed to do was sit down for a bit and regroup myself.
If I had taken a breath, I would have realised that the person mailing me was trying to sort things out, to my benefit as well, and probably didn’t intend to be offensive or accusing. I could have apologised and suggested that they ring me in future if it’s urgent – that’s always quicker.
These alternative approaches are responses: the word means you weigh it up or consider it first. This way, we avoid knee-jerk reactions – that immediate emotional reaction that we often have to situations.
Of course, there are times when a reaction is lovely because it is a positive reaction and we see immediately that we have genuinely pleased someone or made them feel better about something. It is those negative reactions we need to watch out for.
And I don’t suggest this because it is kinder to other people – I suggest it because it is kinder to you. We cerate unpleasantness for ourselves, as much if not more than we do for others, by not considering before we respond.
So next time you feel that anger, hurt, upset, rise up in you, just take a breathspace before you do anything – it could make your life easier.