A lot of things in life feel fantastic. That first cup of hot coffee in the morning? Fantastic. A slice, or three, of your favorite kind of pizza after moving day? Fantastic. Having someone do that thing where they lightly rub your back under your shirt for however long you can beg them to do so? Fantastic.
But nothing feels quite as fantastic as replying to someone who’s gone ahead and done you wrong with a heartfelt “go fuck your actual self.”
When it comes to telling people off, I’m the best of the best. I’ve looked right into the eyes of someone who loves me and told them to eat shit. I’ve used obscene hand gestures toward my own mother. I’ve told a stranger on the internet that I, for one, am actually glad their friend got hit by a car on their bike and died. For a long time, if given the opportunity to air my grievances, I did so, and with gusto.
Did telling these people off, in these moments, make me feel better? Honestly, yes.
But did I still feel better an hour or so after doing it? No.
See, what happens after you open your mouth or let loose your typing fingers to unleash the proverbial fury is that you’re left feeling like an unhinged bully who can’t blend in in polite society. And once your rational mind kicks back in, you’ll be left to contend with a lapful of consequences for your momentarily delicious actions.
A thing called mindfulness, when properly learned and applied, can do wonders here.
The opposite of mindfulness is, plainly, paying no mind. To not be mindful is to just fart whatever comes to mind first out of your mouth. Think about that for a minute. Do you do this?
Now think about this: That’s what babies do. To not practice mindfulness, or to not even try, is to navigate life like a baby does. When a baby is confused, they’ll do some really out-there things.
If a baby wants something and you don’t give it to them, they’re liable to take one of their sticky baby hands and smack you in the mouth. If they’re of speaking age, they might come after you with an impromptu “You have a DUMB HEAD!” They might smear poop on the walls. Wild stuff. Who knows. This is how babies respond to conflict and hurt feelings.
Do you want to live like a baby? Probably not (although not having to prepare your own meals, clean your own body, talk in full sentences, or walk upright sounds kind of luxurious).
Mindfulness is the practice of being in a situation or being confronted with information, be it welcome or unwelcome, and taking a beat or two before you respond. It seems easy, but it’s far from it. Learning how to think before I speak took more than half my life, but it’s now one of my most cherished and important abilities.
I went from being a person in my 20s and early 30s who couldn’t hold down a relationship, friendship, or job because I thought it more valuable to constantly “speak my mind” (aka say the first imprudent thing I could think of) to being someone who is half of a thriving 5-year marriage and who waves at neighbors while walking the dog, as though in the opening credits of a documentary about being happy and nice.
I now live the kind of life that prompts people to come to me for advice, which, honestly, feels pretty great.
Now I pause before I respond to things so my childlike first reactions have some breathing room to calm, collect, and go with option B, which is something along the lines of “okay!”
That’s a quick little tip I can bestow to you: When you’re at a loss for how to respond to something, just say or type “okay!” And then allow yourself the option to think more about it later and do whatever you decide is best. You’ll get way more out of an “okay!” than a “You know what, I never liked you. Not for even one second.”
If mindfulness is a concept that’s entirely new to you, or something you feel you’re just not good at, why not give this exercise a whirl as you’re sitting at the Thanksgiving table with your uncle? That uncle who loves filling your Facebook feed with Trump content, who *will* say something that will make you want to lash out, which will only make him say more stuff you don’t like. And before you know it, the turkey is cold and the day is ruined.
Instead, take a deep breath, count to five, and say… nothing. Say nothing at all. And for your reward, glance up slowly for a good peep at the offending person’s befuddled face, red with frustration over your refusal to engage. Yum. That’s better than sweet potatoes with crispy marshmallows. Tastes good. Tastes like some piping-hot mindfulness.
Kelly McClure is a writer who has written for NY Magazine, GQ, The Hairpin, Rolling Stone, and more. Find more of her work here.