Have you ever been stuck in traffic and noticed that the car behind you is so close that the other driver could change your radio station? If the traffic changed in the slightest, the other car would have no time to adjust and prevent a crash.
An inappropriate reaction in traffic can create damage and cost time and money. An inappropriate response to a person causes human damage, and the costs can be much higher.
Have you ever had a stressful week and tried to squeeze in just one more thing, like lunch with a friend? You’re already feeling the pressure of your day, and your hostess seats you in what seems like the noisiest section of the restaurant.
You’re irritated and, to make matters worse, your friend is running late. By the time she arrives, instead of being happy to see her, you start speaking from frustration, criticizing her lack of respect and consideration. Once it’s out, you regret it. Your friend is hurt and you’re responsible for human wreckage.
Whether you want to avoid a car collision or emotional damage, the solution is the same: Create space.
There was a long period in my past where I didn’t know this and I functioned with no space between a triggering event and my reaction. I was known for being a fast thinker, a rapid-fire talker, and my quick temper.
In a corporate environment, these characteristics are often applauded, and it was easy to think of them as being positive qualities as I continued to succeed. But no matter how you try to frame it, being reactive does not allow time to think about the potential impact of words and the damage they might cause.
Responding this way didn’t create success, it created wreckage.
Creating distance between a trigger and your response can dramatically change your relationship with others, as well as your relationship with yourself. It’s in that space that you can choose your reaction to avoid hurting yourself and others.
Tips to create space
1. Take off your sunglasses.
We all see the world through our own tinted perceptions, like sunglasses. After you wear sunglasses long enough, you forget that they’re on and start to think that your view is unfiltered.
2. Take a breath.
The fraction of time it takes to create one full cycle of breath can provide you with the opportunity to make a choice. That breath can be enough to allow you to soften your approach and avoid turning the other person into a victim.
3. Find the fear.
At the root of a quick, harsh response, you can often find fear. That surge of adrenaline you feel right before you respond is your fight or flight response. Many of us are wired to respond to fear with fight rather than flight. It’s this type of auto-response that can wound the people around you and leave them totally unaware of what caused your reaction. If you can find your fear, you can learn to manage it.
4. Watch your energy levels.
We’re taught that we need to care for others, work hard, and provide for our families. We’re not typically taught how to do everything we’re “supposed” to do while maintaining a healthy balance of energy. When we overextend ourselves, we create an internally toxic environment. We can only give what we’ve got, so our reactions become the same toxins we’re building within ourselves.
Creating space in your mind, your emotions, and in your reactions will minimize the wreckage in your life. If you’re creating chaos, it will follow you.
This post was originally shared on MindBodyGreen