I expect you’ve learned by now that immediate, in-the-moment reactions aren’t always the most useful. My kids certainly taught me that I sometimes needed a little time, a little distance, or a different perspective before I responded.

Some old sayings that suggest this wisdom has been around a long time:

  • Count to ten.
  • Walk around the block.
  • Sleep on it.

I learned this lesson in a positive way once while out running. As I approached a woman who was walking her dog, I saw that the dog was on a long leash. I moved off the sidewalk onto the grass as I passed them.

It wasn’t enough.

Before I knew it, the dog had a hold on my arm and was snarling and growling. Fortunately, it quickly lost its grasp and my arm came free.

Once I was away from the dog, several things occurred to me to say to the woman, but none of them were very nice. So I just kept running.

The next day I was out running again, and sure enough, up ahead was the same woman walking her dog. I had about half a block to consider what, if anything, to say to her. I realized it was up to me. I decided to take care of her, so I said, “What a great day to be out!” She just beamed back.

Two days later, I saw her again, but she was on the other side of the street. When she saw me, she smiled, waved, and yelled, “I got a shorter leash!”

So now I have a new friend and a story that reminds me not to react in the moment in a way I might later regret, but rather to wait until I can respond in a way that works.

It’s easy to have a wonderful response when we see something coming. When we get caught off-guard, it is much more difficult. So when something happens at home, plan in advance how you might buy yourself some time to think before you speak. Here are a few ideas:

    “Okay, let’s discuss this tomorrow.”

    “Hmmm, I’m not sure what to say right now. Give me an hour.”

    “I hear what you are saying. I’d like to think about this before I respond.”

One of my favorite dialogues from Calvin & Hobbes also highlights this point:

Calvin: Sometimes when I’m talking, my words can’t keep up with my thoughts. I wonder why we think faster than we speak?

Hobbes: Probably so we can think twice.