Expressing Mindful Reactions
She’s so opinionated. He’s always selfish. She’s just an argumentative person.
Nearly all of us have thoughts and judgments like these about people in our lives; they’re almost automatic reactions stemming from our perspective in the moment. Many times, too, we’re quick to share these knee-jerk judgments with a friend, family member, or coworker.
And even if there’s a kernel of truth to these thoughts, overarching statements don’t typically reflect who that person really is and why they’re behaving a certain way. Instead, we may give a mindless response—retorts like, “You’re joking, right?” or “This is so annoying.” Simply put, it’s better to think things through.
Being mindful allows you to see the bigger picture; to consider why a person is saying and doing something. When you’re mindful, you’re nonjudgmentally present in that moment; therefore, you might be more open to a perspective that changes how you feel about the situation, avoiding those quick—and often harsh—judgments.
Here are a few ways practicing mindfulness helps you express more thoughtful reactions:
It Helps You Focus
Being more aware during your interactions with other people lets your brain process what’s happening in that moment. That means you’re not distracted by thoughts or worries that can hugely affect your response to an experience. Really taking in somebody’s words and feelings might allow you to see how passionate that person is about the topic, rather than argumentative. The focus that comes with mindfulness can also open your eyes in situations where you might blurt out a thoughtless comment. For example, you might notice that someone holding up the grocery line looks especially tired and wonder if she’s going through a personal struggle. With that awareness, a reaction like “this is so annoying” probably won’t even cross your mind.
It Helps You Consider a Person's Whole Being
Being mindful makes it easier to remember that the person you’re interacting with is more than just the negative behavior of the moment—especially because that behavior might actually stem from a good part of his or her personality. In fact, experts at the Langer Mindfulness Institute found that the traits people valued about themselves were positive versions of the ones they wanted to change. A friend who’s overly careful in her actions—maybe somewhat fussy and controlling—might also be the most thoughtful (remembering birthdays, asking about a concern you shared weeks ago) in her professional and personal life. So it’s worth considering the other, wonderful parts of who she is before pigeonholing or casting judgment.
It Helps Improve a Bad Situation
Whether you’re frustrated while sitting in traffic or listening to your colleague complain about her workload for the umpteenth time, mindfulness can help turn things around. Instead of rolling your eyes and bitterly commenting, “We all have a lot of work to do,” you might offer her a hand with a specific task or ask if she’s up for a coffee break. Or rather than laying on the horn as the cars inch forward, you can notice what’s around you—the unusual shapes of the clouds, the lyrics of a song on the radio, the two dogs laying on the sidewalk while their owners chat—to help pass the time. It’s your awareness that allows you to avoid the automatic reactions that you may regret later, or simply wish you hadn’t wasted energy on.