Why are there certain situations or comments that just get to us and we cannot help but react? I have been looking for ways to find a pause before reacting and choose a different way of responding for many years. In some situations taking pause has been easier to attain but, as maybe you have found too, in some situations my reactions seem relentless.
One of my most common situations that I react to with upset is when my husband makes a suggestion, or asks me to do something or notices something that needs to be done that I have missed. Even when I write these down it seems silly to get upset but I do. Any of these things will make me feel annoyed, angry and can even lead to upset.
He will ask me to remember the girls water bottles and I feel annoyed. He will ask me to clean the peanut butter off the knife before putting it into the dishwasher and I get irritated. He will say that we really need to vacuum and I will feel like I am not doing enough. In my mind his suggestions and requests turn into criticism. So many times I have asked myself, what the heck is going on here? Why am I being so sensitive about this?
I have tried many different strategies and I would like to highlight for you those that I have found useful in the moment and when you have time for reflection; both of which seem to be necessary to make progress in choosing to pause.
In the moment
Simply asking the question: what am I making this mean? Can be a quick way to remind myself that I may be making this mean more than just the facts and to begin to separate my thoughts from the facts.
Byron Katie’s method of questioning: is that true? This question also helps to separate out your thoughts from the facts. For example, when my husband asks me to remember the girls water bottles and my thought is: doesn’t he notice everything that I do? I can ask myself: Is that true that he doesn’t realize everything that I do? He is simply asking me to remember the water bottles. This questioning has helped me to realize that I am giving a simple request a made-up meaning in my mind.
Marianne Williamson’s theme question in Return to Love – how can we see this differently? also works well in the moment. When I ask this question, I see that my husband has a desire to improve things and that he is identifying ways to do that. He is not criticizing me or telling me that I am not enough. It is my thoughts that are criticizing me and telling myself I am not enough. I also see that he is teaching me how to absorb feedback more effectively with lots of opportunities to practise. As you begin to see things differently it becomes easier to have thoughts that serve you in each situation. We can choose our thoughts and although it is not just a switch that we can turn on or off for different thoughts, it is a process that creates change.
When you make time for reflection
Practising feeling the feeling as it comes up is also helpful but can be impractical in the moment. I read about this in Michael Singer’s book the Untethered Soul – he describes the process as removing your inner thorn. However later imagining yourself in the moment and feeling the feeling can have a powerful effect. Be gentle with yourself with what comes up and try your best to acknowledge your feelings.
What I would like to offer you is a process that is a combination of the highlights from these thought leaders. When you are reacting to a situation and you want to find pause:
In the moment ask yourself
- What am I making this mean? And is that true? (Byron Katie)
- Ask yourself how you might start to see the situation differently (Marianne Williamson).
When you have time for reflection
- When you have more time put yourself back in the moment and write down all of your thoughts and feelings that were coming up during the situation (Michael Singer).
- Once you start to see how you are thinking and feeling it may be overwhelming but be kind to yourself and acknowledge your thoughts and feelings. Try to understand why you might be feeling this way. Pretend you are your own best friend.
Moving through and understanding why these emotions come up for you and how to take care of yourself so that you can consciously choose what you want takes time and coaching. I have actively been working on this with my coach for months and I am just now seeing that I can find the pause in my more challenging situations and choose how I will act or not act, instead of react.
I believe that these methods are powerful and that you can access change too, if you are willing to do the work.
If you are interested in learning more about these types of strategies, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for a discovery call.