Pause Before Reacting

I’ve been reading The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, which follows her journey through a year of trying various happiness resolutions.

The biggest lesson I’m getting from the book isn’t necessarily her particular resolutions, rather it is to stop and think before reacting in a situation.

Throughout the book Gretchen gives some examples of irritating moments in daily family life.Like when her kids are bickering or when she or her husband are in a bad mood. You know those times.

What I’ve found intriguing is that due to her happiness project, she was sometimes able to pause in that moment before reacting to look at things from a different point of view, then react more creatively.

It’s easy to yell or join the bickering or get defensive or say something resolutely to the moody party like, “then just fix it.” In her moments of pause, however, Gretchen had the presence of mind to realize how she would normally react and realize that such a reaction may not solve the problem or may even add more stress to the situation.

For example, when she found her two daughters arguing and crying, she marched to their room and almost told them to “knock it off” or some other such parentism. But she didn’t. She stood in the doorway, realized that probably wouldn’t actually make them stop, and instead said something like, “Crying always makes me thirsty. I’m going to get you girls some water.” Soon they were all in the kitchen drinking water and Gretchen even got her girls to laugh.

Wow.

So that’s the sort of mindfulness I’m trying to bring into my own life now. When I feel a gut reaction rising, I’m pausing (when I remember to) to ask myself if whatever I was about to say will actually help the situation. If the answer is no, I’m taking another minute to get creative with my responses.

When my husband gets yet another work call on a night or weekend, rather than what has become my standard reaction (a huff or rolling my eyes or asking, “seriously?”), I’m trying to be more mindful of the fact that he’s just as irritated about the interruption as I am. It doesn’t help to have me adding my annoyance to the situation. Instead, I try to give him a sympathetic look as if to say, “I know it stinks that you are stuck working during free time.”

Or like yesterday, when my stepson came home from school hyper and without saying hello told me he was going to a friend’s house, my gut reaction was to say something like, “Not even a hello? Just ‘you’re going to so-and-so’s house? You didn’t ask our permission. What other homework to you have? What about chores?”

Instead, I paused. I realized a stream of questions and parentisms wasn’t going to make for a lighter mood. I also realized that my stepson often says he has plans that turn out not to go through and this might just be another kids-talked-at-school-but-didn’t-run-it-by-parents-yet situation.

Having that moment really helped. From there we had a discussion about the school project for which he is partnered with the aforementioned friend and what they need to accomplish together. We talked about the good grade he got on a quiz and we discussed what homework he had. I asked him if his friend had spoken to his mother yet, to which the answer was no. So I sent him on his way to carry about his afternoon and asked him to get back to me when he had talked to his friend and to please let me know what time he would want me to drive him over and what time he needed to be picked up.

No bickering. No struggle. And you know what? The plans never materialized, so had I gotten worked about it in the beginning, it would have all been for naught anyway.

That Gretchen sure is onto something.

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