Many of you know that my oldest daughter, Brett, just got engaged. The other night we were discussing how important it is that you marry a person accepting him exactly as he is. You don’t get married expecting your spouse to change.
Now, we all know that change is going to happen. But too many engaged couples (in my opinion) get married thinking they will be able to change their spouse. And that is very foolish thinking indeed.
Anyway, as Brett and I were talking about changing as you grow up, I told Brett that one of the biggest ways that I have changed is learning that while I can’t change others, I can (and need to) change myself. More specifically I can change my response to everything that life throws at me.
It doesn’t matter whether it is an event (positive or negative), a person (kind or unkind), or an emotion (anger or worry) – the main thing I can control is my reaction. My reaction is a choice.
Life is full of incidents that don’t turn out the way we desire. Let’s say, for example, you are out with your toddler grocery shopping, and your toddler starts screaming. How are you going to react? Will you get angry? Or embarrassed? Will you turn mean? Will you stay patient? Will you worry what others in the store are thinking about you?
It’s difficult to change our thoughts or feelings. But we can change our actions. How you choose to react is up to you. And it is that reaction that is important because it is what will be remembered.
A screaming child is cause for embarrassment. But don’t react to your child because you are embarrassed. Your embarrassment is YOUR issue. It’s not your child’s issue. As a parent, your children will always, always do things that embarrass you. (Don’t worry about it – you’ll get your “revenge” by embarrassing them when they’re teenagers.)
Deal with your embarrassment later. At the moment it is happening, focus on your child – not the other people in the store and not your own personal feelings.
Do what you can do to calm the child quickly (for me it usually involved picking the child up and holding them tightly). If the child doesn’t calm quickly, abandon your cart and leave the store. I’ve had to do that in the past. It’s not fun, but it’s hard to maintain discipline over your own reactions with a screaming toddler and people looking at you. Go to your car and get control of the situation. Once the child is calmed, go back and finish your shopping (usually the cart is still waiting for you). If not, go home and try again later.
As another example, let’s say that you’re running late for an event. You’re trying to leave and all of your family are not ready. How are you going to react? Are you going to start screaming at them to hurry up? Threaten to leave them? Get worried and stressed out? All of the above?
Again, take a moment before you react. Take a deep breath. Gather everyone together and get them to all take a deep breath. Calmly state the minimum that needs to occur before you can leave – hand out assignments and finish up. When everyone is ready, then you can leave.
I know, all of that sounds much easier to say than to actually implement. And none of us will ever react perfectly every single time. But you can learn to control how you react to certain situations and you CAN make poor reactions the exception rather than the rule.
Here are some steps you can take:
Study Yourself. As I mentioned, life will always through you curve balls that you don’t want to deal with. You need to study yourself to figure out what are your specific problem areas. Do you get angry too quickly? Are you impatient? Do you use unkind words that you can’t take back? While we can each deal with some of these issues, most of us usually have one or two areas in which we really struggle.
Evaluate Your Triggers. We all have them – those things that push us past our control. For me it is lack of sleep (which is a big part of why I make sleep a priority). If I haven’t gotten enough sleep I can be very cranky. For you it may be the weather, dehydration, your hunger level, or any number of things. Try to figure it out. Keep a journal* if that helps, jotting down when you lost your temper and what was going on or why.
Create a Plan to Minimize Your Triggers and Their Impact. Once you’ve identified your triggers, what are you going to do about them? You can’t always make them go away completely, but you can educate yourself and others. If hunger is a problem for you, keep a bag of almonds or a granola bar with you at all times. (I always keep almonds in the car and around the house because I don’t do well if I get too hungry). Talk to your children and your spouse. If you’ve recognized that lack of sleep is an issue for you, warn them when you’re feeling tired and do whatever it takes to get more sleep.
Reduce Your Stress. Oh yes – stress. Isn’t this something we all want to do at some level – to reduce our stress load? Of course it is. Well you know what? If you start to study yourself and learn about your triggers and start to reduce the triggers, that will improve your stress. But you need to move beyond that. You need to identify your biggest source of stress and then come up with strategies to minimize the stress. Do you know what mine is? Decision making. I have so many decisions to make every single day. Sometimes they’re small decisions (what to make for dinner, what to plant in the garden). And sometimes they’re HUGE decisions that affect everything we do (should we stop being only a bath & body company and start selling goat milk food items as well). Whatever I can do to reduce the amount of decisions I need to make, the better my stress level. This is part of why I put so many systems in place. Following systems really reduces the number of decisions you need to make.
Build Margin Into Your Life. Margin is the space between our normal load and a state of overload. None of us function when we’re overloaded. You need space. And that often times requires you to say no or discontinue some of the good things your’e doing in your life. If you want more information, I did a podcast on this issue that I highly recommend if you don’t have time to read the book Margin by Richard Swenson*. (This book has been hugely valuable in my life and I highly recommend it as well.)
Find A Good Role Model. This is always easier said then done. But if you can find someone in your life that you can watch and see how they handle events it is so helpful. Even more helpful is somebody you can talk to and get wisdom from. That is one of the reasons I take the time to podcast and blog. Because I know the importance of finding older women who have been through it who can help (yes – I’m old! LOL)
Give it to God. And finally give it to God and pray about it. God doesn’t want you to worry. God doesn’t want you to get angry. God doesn’t want you to be overly stressed. I know that God loves my children even more than I do. I know that He loves me. The events that happen in my life that I don’t like are used by God to help me to grow more like Jesus. As much as it is my job to raise my children, the best way I can raise them is raise myself to be the absolute best role model that I can possibly be.
Please remember – you can’t control what’s around you and what happens to you. But you can control how you choose to react. And that’s important because your children, your spouse, and even strangers are watching your reactions.
So do what it takes to help yourself learn to control your reactions. It’s worth the time and the effort!
What about you? Do you think your reactions are a choice? And if so, where do you struggle?
As a side note – I used to practice grocery shopping with the children. We were a well-oiled machine because I put in the training so they knew what to expect and how to act. They knew not to ask for anything extra (if they asked they would never get it). They knew when they were little to keep one hand on the cart. I had my shopping list organized by the store so we went up and down only the aisles we needed. But more importantly, I didn’t go food shopping when my children were tired or sick. Tired or sick children are almost always guaranteed to cause problems. I also kept a well stocked pantry and never waited til the last minute so that I didn’t have any food left. And even with all that, I still occasionally had to leave the store, but those times were few and far between.