Take a Breath
Every day for an entire year, I’ve told myself something important before I got out of bed in the morning:
“I will take a breath before I respond.”
I eventually added a second intention, and just recently another, so now I say three things to myself every morning, but taking a breath before I respond is the most significant.
A year ago at this time, I was in a very stressful situation. Despite good intentions, I knew I was sometimes struggling to be my best self as I navigated all that was going on.
On the morning of November 14, I remember thinking, “I need to try harder” and my daily intention was born. I remember distinctly blowing it almost immediately once the day began. I did not take a breath before I responded. I felt badly and resolved to do better. And I do think I did, a little bit, as the day went on.
We’ve been practicing mindfulness at school for the past few years. One of our goals is to teach children to respond rather than react – i.e., take a breath or a pause before you respond.
Clearly it took me a little longer to personally embrace the importance of this particular mindful trait, but I’m sincerely trying now.
I still say this to myself with conviction every morning. But, just the other day, someone told me something that caught me off guard and did not make me feel good, and I know I did not react well.
Taking a breath before I respond is a work in progress for me.
In June, I started meditating for 5-10 minutes daily. I’ve been doing it consistently for 156 days as of today. It’s hard to quantify if it’s helping (Have I taken a breath before responding more times since beginning my meditation practice than before? Very hard to know for sure.), but I think it is.
I think it’s helping me create a little space and that’s where the breath comes in. More space allows for more chance I’ll take a breath before I respond. More space allows for more chance that my response will be just that instead of a reaction. More space allows for more chance that my best self will come through as I respond.
It’s hard to set benchmarks around skills that feel intangible. If asked to rate myself today, I’d say I am at about fifty percent for my success rate on this over the past year.
It could be higher than that. It is so hard to know.
What I do know for sure is I need to keep working on it, and I will. As I reflect on a year of trying my best at this, I also think about my present day situation. I am under a lot of stress now too. It’s actually almost the exact same stress as a year ago with variations in details. Things are not perfect, but I think things are going a little better now than a year ago at this time.
I’m trying to take a breath before I respond, and I will keep reminding myself that each morning until this skill can be marked as consistent. It will probably be awhile before I get there, but I can do hard things and I will.