Think Before You Act or Speak

In grade school I loved to participate in class, so when my teacher would ask a question I often quickly raised my hand even though I sometimes didn’t have a clue as to what the answer was. My enthusiasm often caught the teacher’s eye and she would call on me first. Needless to say, when I didn’t know the answer I felt rather embarrassed. I was upset with her for asking something I didn’t know and with myself for being impulsive.

Unfortunately, the pattern of “acting before thinking” hasn’t totally escaped me, even as an adult. While I am happy to report that I do much better now, there are still times when I have reacted to someone’s comment or behavior out of irritation or frustration, and those reactions all have something in common – I acted on feelings rather than thinking first. When that happens, I often end up apologizing for my insensitive words. If you or I blurt out the first thought that flares up when we have been annoyed, irritated or interrupted, it’s almost guaranteed that we will offend someone and make the situation worse.

Many of life’s difficulties can be avoided by learning how to exercise self-control. The fact is, we all have a choice about how we will respond to the things that happen every day. Too often, our anger, jealousy, pride and selfishness get in the way of using good judgment, but we can choose to learn to take control. Techniques as simple as counting to 10 before you respond can give you time to consider whether it is in anyone’s best interest for a conflict to heat up or whether you need to allow a little time to cool down. When your first thought is to make a negative or cutting remark, say instead, “I’m going to need a minute to consider my response.”

Impulsivity doesn’t only affect what we say. It also affects what we do. How many times have you bought something you “had to have” only to get it home and realize it was a bad idea? It’s just too easy to strap your finances with a credit card payment that you’ll regret for months or even years. Every day we are faced with choices that will help or hurt our situation, and spending money without first thinking about the consequences can be a source of great stress. One way to prevent really big mistakes with finances is to make an agreement with your spouse – or someone else who cares about you – that sets a limit on the amount of money you can spend without checking in. Or make yourself a promise, such as, “If an item costs more than $100, I will leave the store and come back in a day or two to complete the purchase.” You might be surprised how often you find that you don’t really want that item badly enough to go back. This simple strategy can save you a lot of regret.

So, before you speak too soon or jump into something you’ll regret, the next time you are tempted to react impulsively, stop and consider how your words or actions might impact your relationships or situation and how it might reflect on your character.  Believe me you will save yourself a lot of grief if you develop the habit of thinking before you act or speak!

“A fool vents all his feelings, but a wise man holds them back.” Proverb

Live, work and relate well!

Dr. Todd

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