Not too long ago I was watching an episode of Sesame Street with my son and a little segment really caught my attention. It featured Colbie Caillat, Common and Elmo, and was about taking a moment to calm yourself before reacting negatively to something. It was a song called “Belly Breathe,” and it was such a great message delivered in a simple way for children about one activity that can have a major impact on someone’s day-to-day interactions with other people and situations (see for yourself, below).
We are constantly in more hectic, tense and stressful situations, and the speed of things keeps people feeling on edge frequently. People often wind up being short on patience and take it out on others, even our close friends and family members, by being quick to judge, to snap at, criticize and even verbally assaulting them. These states and actions are typically intensified by the messages we receive through mainstream and social media, especially given the ongoing political tension that continues to divide our country and turn friends into enemies. These messages forward the destructive notion of others being different, and that we should somehow be against “them.”
What if there was a way to eliminate much of the franticness we routinely feel? What if by doing so we have better experiences and relationships in life?
One thing to understand is that the vast majority of us are all in the same boat – we are trying to do the best we can within our knowledge and abilities. Believe it or not, most people aren’t actually trying to harm or upset you, just as you aren’t intending to cause harm to people who may be upset at you for something.
Taking a moment to pause before reacting harshly toward someone or a situation and reflecting on this can often dispel much of the initial anger or similar upsetting feelings. Being mindful in this way, has literally worked miracles for some, especially when they incorporate this and other mindfulness practices in their daily lives. It is something that I have seen with myself and that I am working to cultivate more deeply.
One of my new personal mantras is to pause & reflect rather than cause & effect. As the Sesame Street song points out, taking a few good breaths can help calm us down. We make better decisions and function better overall when we are in a more relaxed state and are able to be mindful of ourselves and others. Reactionary living can be exhausting and takes a toll on our mental and physical health, but positive intention carried into action has a much better overall result and helps us be truly more effective in reaching for and attaining our goals.
There are tons of fantastic books out there to read or listen to that talk about some of these principles. One well-rounded great place to start is How to Live a Good Life, by Jonathan Fields. You can check out more at the Good Life Project, or there are plenty of resources available for mindfulness-based practices that would be an excellent investment of your time.