If you bought a house or a car or made another major purchase, you would likely put a lot of thought into it. You wouldn’t just jump in. You would pause, digest all the available information, and respond to the situation in a way that makes sense to you, and that coincide with your values.

When it comes to everyday decisions, we act differently. Instead of responding, we react – and that’s understandable because we would be paralyzed if we paused before every decision we made.

One of the key concepts in Stephen Covey’s7 Habits of Highly Effective Families is to pause, allowing you to respond rather than react, and when Covey writes about that, he isn’t talking about big-ticket purchases. We already know to do that in those situations.

What Covey is referring to is our interactions with other people, most importantly those closest to us. After all, a car purchase is a big deal, but it’s not nearly as important as a relationship with your spouse, your child, or other family members or friends.

Though I read Covey’s book many years ago, I still struggle with controlling my reactions and continue to wish I could do a better job of it.

I can think of many examples where pausing to think before I responded would have been better.

Like every other type of change, the first step is a desire to better ourselves. That leads to an awareness, which leads to mindfulness—being present in the moment, taking a breath, pausing, and responding to the situation rather than reacting.

While I acknowledge I continue to have a long way to go, it’s also important to remind myself how far I have come:

  • I snap at people way less than I once did (and of course, the worst part of snapping at people is they are often the people we love most, whose unconditional love we often take for granted).
  • I have learned just because I “know” my way is the best way doesn’t mean it’s the best way for someone else.
  • I have learned it’s often best to keep my opinion to myself.
  • I am frequently able to silently laugh about my feelings regarding others’ otherwise-frustrating behaviors (and more importantly, to laugh at my own quirks, rather than allowing them to lead to frustration.)
  • I have learned to complain less.
  • I give others the benefit of the doubt far more often, assuming what they do and say is not with ill intent, even if it causes me angst.

Here are some ways to help you respond vs. react:

  • Take five deep breaths, pause for 60 seconds, take a short walk, or even wait 24 hours. Waiting allows for a much better chance to avoid a gut reaction.
  • Ask yourself how the way you want to answer something fits with your goals for the relationship.
  • Try a complaint fast (as Farnoosh Brock wrote about here.)

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff is another of my favorite books. Its oft-forgotten sub-title is And It’s All Small Stuff and that’s probably the most important lesson of all. It really is all small stuff—or at least nearly all.

We know the big stuff in life. But nearly everything is small stuff and that’s the last and maybe most important bullet point for the above list. Knowing it’s all small stuff helps us to chill out, to let things go, and to respond and not react.

How do you respond vs. react? Join the conversation with your comments…

All my best,