Sitting at her desk, Lesley was focused on completing a report that had a rapidly approaching deadline. She was thinking, "I've got to get this done, and I am running out of time!" The phone rang. Her tone when she answered clearly conveyed, "What do you want? I don't have time for this!" The caller said, "Whoa, Lesley, maybe we should talk later." Yikes!
After her long day, Lesley headed home. When she walked in the door, her son's backpack was in the middle of the living room along with papers and pens scattered everywhere.
“David,” she yelled, “how many times do I have to tell you pick up this stuff? I work hard. I’m not your maid! Get in here right now!” Can you feel the distance that this immediately created in their relationship? David's reaction was definitely not investigating his own level of responsibility and how he could improve. He wasn't inspired to keep the house tidy. All that he noticed was how angry his mom was. Lesley felt shabby for blasting her son before she had even seen him or said hello. She felt more exhausted and discouraged than she had before.
Both the earlier phone call and the interaction with her son could have been very different. Here is where the power of composure comes into play!
When you are reactive - as Lesley was and as we all have been - you are much less effective than when you are composed. You don't get to see the range of options available to you. You see only limited choices. Maintaining or regaining your composure can alter the mood at home and in the workplace. It can change how you feel about yourself and how others feel about you. It can increase your creativity and flexibility. When you are composed, you can guide and teach your children from a centered, open place. You can communicate effectively with colleagues. People hear you.
When you are reactive, you are focusing on what you don’t want rather than on what you want. Focusing on the problem doesn’t change the situation. Focusing on what you want does create change. That shift in your focus to the desired outcome trains your mind to look for the positive which also influences how you feel. You will be calmer and more composed.
With composure, how could this have played out for Lesley? Seeing the messy living room, Lesley notices the tightness in her body. She feels the heaviness of her exhaustion. She becomes aware of the trigger thoughts pushing her towards anger (“Why do I always have to tell him to clean up? I am tired. He is old enough to know better!). She pauses. She focuses on what she wants – David being responsible. By taking that pause to be conscious of what is going on in her body, Lesley can then decide if she needs to pause longer to gain her composure or if she is in the space to respond from her best self.
The first change will come from you. Having been on the planet longer than your children, you instigate the shift to composure. Knowing that yelling, power struggling, and reactive dialogue do not teach responsibility, the first step is to get centered before you respond. Your job is to take responsibility for your response without blaming your children or that phone caller. You may not be in charge of what is occurring, AND you are in charge of your response. That is actually where your personal freedom resides! Doing something physical, taking deep breathes, saying a mantra, singing a song, noticing tension in your body and releasing it, and changing your trigger thoughts to ones that are more helpful can move you from being reactive to being responsive.
With composure, how could this have played out? Before answering that phone call, Lesley becomes aware of how tight her shoulders are, how her heart is racing, and how she is pressuring herself with her "have to get this done or else" thinking. Rather than picking up the phone, she lets it go to voicemail and then she walks around the building to get back into her body. Later, rather than letting her stressful day spill over into her life at home, she decides to take off her shoes and listen to classical music for ten minutes before talking to David about the mess. When she approaches him, she speaks in a much more conversational manner. She is curious. She asks him about his day, recognizes what he is reading, and then says, "Backpack" while pointing to the living room. No commands. No yelling. No distance.
Being composed takes practice. You have years of experience being reactive. We all do! The process of becoming composed will take time, practice, and many opportunities to forgive yourself for making mistakes. It is not about being perfect. It is about being close to your child and close to those in your world.
With composure, how could this have played out? Lesley recognizes that her thoughts about David were full of blame. She forgives herself, and thinks that David’s day was probably stressful, too. Seeing that he is in his room reading, she thinks, “Wow, my son loves to read! That is awesome!”
The keys to gaining composure include recognizing how much more effective you are when you are responding rather than reacting; understanding that it all begins with you; knowing that it takes practice; being aware of what you want rather than what you don't want; pausing; noticing what is going on in your body; and using what you discover as a guide. It is about giving yourself that space to see all of your options as you move away from urgency and emergency.
The closeness and effectiveness that you gain are the great benefits of composure!