When I was young, my Dad would always tell me to “think and breathe before you speak.” He was one of these very thoughtful men who never went anywhere without a book in his hand. He was all about learning, about expanding our view of the world, and he was all about being grounded and centered before opening one’s mouth. He spoke 14 languages fluently (although with a strong accent.) He taught me words were everything, and even more to listen deeply beyond the surface to what is not said too.
I, on the other hand—rebellious, reactive, noisy, always challenging everything asking “Why?” and not giving much credit to his love of clear focus and being discerning with one’s words.
He’d remind me, “Be careful once you say that because you can’t take those words back.”
This week, in particular, I’ve made a commitment to do that. Think and breathe before I speak. But that actually doesn’t work (sorry dad) because it’s backward. Breathe first, think after—then speak!
Let me break it down for you. If you’re in a stress response—you’ve activated your fight/ flight part of the brain and the thinking mind goes buh-bye. You can’t think. You’re on patrol seeking potential threats because you’ve been exposed to something that pushes the trigger button. There’s a spectrum too—from mild—where you are in low-grade stress and you’re constantly managing your surroundings—to high where you feel threatened (happens a lot on social media) that triggers past memories stored in the body, that then triggers behaviors and survival techniques you may not even know you have. So you act out of fear and cause more difficulties for yourself and others because you’ve also kicked an invisible hornet’s’ nest and it takes a beat to calm down for the buzzing to move on.
You can’t think until you step back and breathe.
So restraint of tongue and pen and keyboard (especially keyboard these days) is a necessary step. Deep breathing, even if only 10 times, can calm the nervous system down and restore your capacity to think. I learned from a dear friend to “put a pin in it,” knowing that whatever is there can be responded to if I could take a beat and breathe, and if it’s not important to address right now—it can wait until the rational mind and calmer emotions come back online.
Embarrassing to admit, Chicken Little still wakes up in me before I can breathe, and can cause quite a kerfuffle. The trick is to know your triggers and to do your best, be ok that you might not get it right every time, but you can turn it around quicker every time something comes up that turns on the stress response.
I’ve had to work on this one a lot lately, but choosing to breathe with focus before speaking/writing/acting is an amazing way to shift. Then, decide what you really want to say.
Breathe deeply until you feel that sense of coming back into your body—then you can think—then you can be kind, firm, expressive, assertive, creative, curious, open, receptive, strong, perceptive, intuitive, loving, etc.
The other way—the reactive triggered way is fearful, angry, defensive, aggressive, hostile, closed, righteous, obsessive, indignant—all the way to hate.
So which door will you step in, and from what place will you share? I think I am going to practice “breathe and put a pin in it” and pick the first batch. You?
I’d love to hear how you shifted and what happened as a result of breathing before speaking. Do you see the difference? I bet more good comes out of it than you expected. It has for me.
Lots of love until next week!