How To Think Before You Speak
We've all been there; said (or typed) something we regret a minute later. Sometimes we even know we're going to regret it before the words come out, yet it can be really difficult to overcome the urge to react in the heat of the moment in spite of your better judgement. Understanding how to pause and think before you speak not only helps avoid unnecessary conflicts, but it also deepens understanding of your own thought patterns, triggers, and how to change negative behaviours for the better.
Thinking before you speak doesn't have to mean you're going to say something you'll regret; it can also mean taking a moment to realise your vocalised thoughts or feelings on a topic aren't needed. Understanding the science behind why we love to talk (about ourselves) may help you get to grips with what's going on behind the scenes, and how to look out for it.
A very simple thing happens when we speak; our brain's pleasure centre lights up - even more so when we're talking about ourselves. We love to give our two pence on any and every matter because it feels good - but the continuous habit of only talking about yourself can negatively affect other areas of your life that bring longer term joy and contentment, including social connection and opportunities for growth.
So, in a world filled with devices that are constantly grabbing our attention and thriving off of our short-term reward systems, how can we take a step back and slow down?
Practice Impulse Control
The desire to speak and be heard is an impulse; we often do it subconsciously without any kind of awareness behind the impact of our words, or the truth they may hold (often what comes out of our mouths is just an opinion, not fact, which is easy to forget).
Practising impulse control can begin in the physical world, starting with your devices: move a social app you use regularly to a different location on your home screen, so when you go to open it you're forced to notice the impulse to be distracted. From here, once you've noticed the impulse, don't give in to the urge. Put your phone down, and do something else. This method can be applied to things such as moving snacks somewhere different, or switching the wi-fi off before bed so that you don't look at your phone first thing in the morning.
Practising impulse control will ultimately make you aware of thoughts that pop up and ask to be vocalised. By honing awareness of your impulses you will be able to translate this into conversations and control the urge to speak up when perhaps all you need to do is listen.
Patience truly is a virtue, but many of us don't have it. With so much of what we need on demand, from our shopping to travel, films to music, and the internet at our fingertips, even a delay of seconds can infuriate a person who's used to seamless supply and demand. Whenever you're faced with a situation that tests your patience - a friend who's late to lunch, a train that hasn't arrived on time, or a show that's taking its sweet time to buffer - take a deep breath, and control your urge to get angry or do something about it, including complaining out loud.
Being patient with your urges in the day-to-day will enhance your ability to be patient in conversations, and afford you the time to think about whether your opinion is something you really need to say in the first place.
Learn to Listen
Most importantly, if someone else is speaking, they want to be heard. Learning to listen isn't just about hearing a person's words, but understanding their body language, tone, and the unspoken signals that accompany what they're trying to say. Miscommunication often happens because of a lack of attention between speakers, but by learning to read people's physical cues as well as hearing what it is they want to say, you'll be able to respond much better.
Feeling heard can elevate your relationships in both your personal and professional life. Becoming known as a colleague who doesn't just say whatever comes to mind, but someone who listens, thinks, and responds appropriately will gain far more credit than speaking blindly. Our personal relationships are the same; when a loved one feels heard the trust between you increases, and ultimately your relationship only becomes stronger.
It isn't easy to train yourself to pause; practices such as yoga and meditation, or simply just having a reminder on your phone to take a moment to breathe can bring you back into the present and make you aware of your own thoughts. The more space you create between your thoughts and your awareness, the easier it will be to bring that space into the conversations you have with other people and say the right thing.