I’ve done a lot of foolish things in my relatively short life. A significant amount of stupidity has poured out of me. And while there is certainly a fair share of stupid actions I have taken, I think I’ve caused the most pain, to myself and others, with my words or responses during particularly challenging or stressful times.
I’ve written before about the time that I offered awful advice and showed zero compassion to one of my players as I tried to force her into a leadership role that she wasn’t prepared for and had no desire to fill.
Other times, I’ve said things to my kids out of frustration that I wished I could take back immediately, and can only pray that their memories are not yet strong enough to store my words away for later.
On one occasion, when I was younger, I wrote a heartful apology letter to my dad, apologizing to him for being a complete knucklehead, and then on the same day, after losing to him in a game of chess, I acted like a complete knucklehead.
I’ve argued with my wife about things that added absolutely zero value to our relationship or our journey, and really hurt her in the process. In retrospect, it seems like I just wanted to argue and be right, about something completely inconsequential. I don’t know why, and it makes me sound like a jerk, (and I was) but that’s basically what I did.
One time I argued with a teacher in high school about something, and when I proved my point, I actually said something to the effect of, “I just wanted to prove you wrong”.
(As an aside, I just realized that I am currently writing what amounts to the absolute opposite of Instagram and Facebook. Most people take pictures of all of the lattes they are consuming, the dream vacations they are taking, and the edited photos of their family showing how happy they are. Basically, the highlights of their lives. I’m doing the complete opposite. Here’s a picture of all the times I was at my worst. Maybe it will catch on…)
When I was in high school, I played on the varsity basketball team for four years. The first two years, I basically served as a practice dummy and a cheerleader. I spent the majority of time during practice on defense getting beaten up by all of the bigger, faster, stronger players, and then during games, I did a lot of clapping and high fiving and water fetching.
My junior year I was a fairly significant contributor, so by my senior year, I felt like I had invested a lot in the program. During my senior year, I literally played every position on the court, including point guard, which I liked doing, but it wasn’t a particular area of strength for me. This meant I had the ball in my hands a lot, and it also meant that I turned the ball over a lot. One game I had four or five turnovers before most of the fans had even found their seats, and my coach (understandably) wasn’t particularly excited about that. “Bryan!! That’s four turnovers!!!” He held up four fingers just in case I didn’t hear the number from across the court, which wasn’t actually a problem, because he yelled it loud enough for the kids sitting at the very top of the arena who weren’t even paying attention to the game to hear, but I guess he wanted to be sure I got the message.
The combination of me already being frustrated by the turnovers on my own, and the fact that I felt like I’d earned a little leeway at this point in my career, and the anger that he projected on me in front of everyone caused me to respond in a way that I’m still embarrassed by. One word came out, quickly. And I don’t know if he could hear me or just read my lips, but I do know that I came out of the game immediately.
Not the best response, clearly.
By the time I made it to the bench, and he asked me if I had anything to say to him, my wisdom and restraint had both increased exponentially, and I told him No, I did not have anything at all to say to him. That long jog from the other side of the court had been a (very small) saving grace for me.
We all have anger, stress, confusion, pressure, embarrassment, and many other emotions that we are forced to deal with throughout the day. All of my examples came from these places and I would say most of them were the results of a quick response, forced out by the boiling over of these emotions. And none of them represented the type of person that I am, the type of person I want to be, or how I desire to treat people.
I’m reading a book by Peter Bregman titled, 4 Seconds, which talks about how little time it takes to replace bad habits with new, more productive ones. The thing that really stands out to me, is the power of the pause. The idea of stopping and taking a breath before proceeding in these moments of stress and challenge. I don’t particularly mean closing your eyes, breathing deeply and tapping into your inner Zen, though there isn’t anything wrong with that if that’s your thing. But a good, solid breath, and just a simple – PAUSE – can work wonders.
Take a second to reframe your thinking, to recognize that you are dealing with another human being, that you don’t have to WIN this given situation, or remind yourself of the values and ideas that you truly want to project and convey in this very moment. And then, when you speak or respond, you can be fully in control of your response and make a better connection with the person/people you are interacting with.
At the very least, you will have a greater chance of leaving the situation without regretting how you responded or how you treated the other person.
I bet if you think about it, you probably have some stories like mine. In most of these moments, had I just paused before responding, I could have avoided much of the pain and anger I’ve stirred up in others.
The pause is a powerful thing. I encourage you to give yourself a second to stop, refocus, and remind yourself of your desired message before you respond.