React or Respond. We decide!

For the last two weeks, I have been writing about families and how we respond to one another.  I wrote that how we chose to see what happens to us can and does impact how we deal with difficult circumstances.

Our brains are wired to create a story around all of our experiences. It all begins with a thought. Once we have a thought, if we hold it in our minds, it becomes a story because our brain does its job and goes to the files and finds evidence that our thought is correct; usually, evidence based on past experiences. This process takes fractions of seconds.

Once we have our story, feelings are generated. These feelings move us to an action or response. Our response produces a result, either good or bad. This little scenario repeats itself hundreds of times each day. The better the response the better the result. We can’t run away from this principle. We live it out whether we understand and accept it or not.

Today I want to illustrate how our story can impact our response.

My husband Don is a gadget man. One fall he bought a new stove top grill at the county fair and was excited to use it. The next morning was Sunday, and we needed to get to a very important reception right after church. I said to Don, “Honey, there isn’t time to grill chicken today and make it to the reception. You’ll have to grill chicken tomorrow.”

After church, Don was nowhere to be seen. I surmised he had left early to go home and grill chicken! Sure enough, when I got home the grill was on and he was cooking. We were going to be late for the reception!

When we got to the reception, they were cleaning up. The bride and groom had left.  I was so angry!

Here was my heat of the moment story—“There are only two reasons Don would have done this. Either he didn’t hear a word I said because he doesn’t listen to me, or he didn’t care what I said.”

I was practiced at controlling my thoughts by now, and I knew this particular story was about blame and would color our relationship for weeks. Not appealing at all. So I looked for a new story. “I know Don. He loves me. He isn’t insensitive. There must be another reason he went ahead and grilled that chicken.”

Later in the evening I calmly said, “Don, remember when I said there wasn’t time to grill chicken today. I can see two reasons why you went ahead and did it. Either you didn’t hear what I said this morning, or you didn’t care what I wanted. But I know you, and you love me. You’re not insensitive. So there must be a reason I haven’t thought of.”

He looked at me with a stricken face and replied, “Gosh Mary, I thought I could do it in time. I thought the whole thing would take thirty minutes. I didn’t know it would take so long.”

I had to laugh because I could tell from his poor face he had really believed it would only take thirty minutes and was shocked to find out it wasn’t true. He never intended to ignore me or hurt me or make us late. He didn’t plan anything of the kind. He was moving forward based on an unrealistic expectation.

I was able to revise my story, even in the heat of the moment, because I took responsibility. I stopped blaming. I could see my story was the issue, not Don’s actions.

When I changed from a blaming, negative story to a more positive story I was able to come up with a plan for moving forward that got me a really good result. When we take responsibility for what we think and how it makes us feel we will be able to respond to negative situations better. That will have a VERY positive and connecting impact on our families.

What has been your experience with taking control of what you think and feel? Please share in the comments section.

Here’s to more joy,
Mary Ann

P.S. You can learn more about controlling your thoughts and emotions for better family relationships in my new book Becoming a Present Parent, Connecting With Your Children in Five Minutes or Less.  You can also receive a chapter from the book on Touchpoints, creating points of connection rather than having points of contention, FREE by visiting becomingapresentparent.com  It can be life changing for your family. I promise!

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