21 Day Relationship Challenge – Day 4

Under-React to a Problem

Today’s resolution suggests that you “Under-react to a problem.”  Not to ignore a problem, or minimize it, but just under-react to it. For a person like me, who tends flare up quickly, this is very helpful—though challenging.

How does this resolution sound to you? If you had an occasion to try it, did it help you to stay calmer?

Did it make a difference to your happiness?

We can all learn from each other, so please post your experiences with the resolution in the comments section below.

  • SharonThoughts

    I love this resolution. A couple weeks before Christmas I was getting a lot of anxiety because I had too much to do and not enough time, then both my husband and 3.5 year old boy came down with the flu. (And apparently I might be a perfectionist?! Hmmm)
    I was flying around reacting to everything!! Then I got the flu badly for 10 days. I couldn’t over-react to my son, the laundry, the Christmas cards that weren’t done yet, the gifts that hadn’t been bought yet etc. etc because I was too sick. Despite being so sick i noticed a sereneness to it because I just had to go slow and I didn’t have the energy to give to overreacting ,Very curious! Very notable.

    • gretchenrubin

      I had the same experience recently with the flu. There’s a real calm that descends when you know you simply CANNOT do these things. It really made me think—

      My mother-in-law loves air flights for this reason. There’s a sense of suspension that she finds very pleasant—you can’t be reached, you can’t be expected to do much, you can’t go anywhere.

  • This is really good practice. Growing up, my younger sister would often overreact to situations or get really upset over little things, so I quickly learned to do just this: Under-react. It helped keep her calm and kept the peace between us and in our home.

  • peninith1

    I don’t ‘fly off the handle’ and overreact outwardly. No, I blow up a huge, threatening, scary scenario in my head and inwardly react to a situation that I have imagined, rather than keeping myself in reality. I have learned over a period of years to recognize these relationship anxiety attacks. They still happen, but knowing that they are more imagined than real and using techniques to anchor myself in the present moment rather than behaving or speaking as if I ‘know’ something I have only imagined has stopped a lot of embarrassing, destructive, and humiliating moments in my relationships.

    Here are a few of the things I have learned about recognizing and managing these worry and anxiety attacks: 1. A feeling of absolute certainty that I know ‘what is going on’ is a sure sign that I do NOT know. 2. I start to experience vivid scenarios of ‘the worst I can imagine’ flashing through my mind. 3. I can pull myself back by repeating over and over “you don’t KNOW” things that are outside my actual view, or in the future. 4. I do my best to be anchored in activities that require me focusing on what is going here and now. 5. I WAIT to learn what will come in the future, or to learn facts. I do not base my behavior on scenarios, but on the reality available to me at the present moment.

    My S.O. and my family and friends all have benefited from my better self management, and I have benefited most of all.

  • B.

    ohmygod that is SO a challenge! once in a blue moon i can pull it off. i’m too…insecure…to get upset with most people, I don’t feel secure enough to share anger/frustration/disappointment, so really the only people that see my dramatic side is those very few who are really close to me. but SOMETIMES I can do this…if it’s The Guy I’m irritated with, SOMETIMES I can say “surprise him with love rather than blasting him w my *expected* anger” and pull it off, and I can tell that he’s pleasantly surprised, which is a nice ending to a crappy feeling. But I can’t do that *every* time cuz eventually I’m like, “HEY! ME!” Ha.

    but this was a good reminder, thanks.

    • Kondath Padmanabhan

      “Patients”…..r….highly required….on this…. tasks…at this juncture….therefore, it should apply….as… give and take policy matter…….hence, first…of all..one has to trained…how to control the situations and then patience….to lead happiness…then only success take place…if, i am correct………………

  • Barbara Ward – London

    i so agree, especially ‘under react’ if those around are ‘over reacting’, it seems to help contain whatever is going on and stop it spiralling into something that may have ongoing consequences. I find it helps me feel I am ‘managing’ the situation.Thanks, love your work

  • Lisa Miller

    My life changed when I heard and internalized this phrase; “Not everything requires a response”. Here’s a good explanation http://www.fluentself.com/blog/personal/not-everything-requires-a-response/

    • Megan Gordon

      I like this one. I frequently use that phrase with my teenager, although my meaning is that I don’t have to respond to every single thing that comes out of his mouth.

    • Karen

      That’s brilliant Lisa. I’ll have to grasp that one too.

  • Joan J

    My husband and I have endured some tough family-related times during our 34 year marriage and after going through those things, I know that most tough times are temporary, and things almost never seem as bad as they feel at the moment. So when a problem arises, my first reaction is to say to myself “If that’s the worst thing that happens to me today, I’ve had a pretty darn good day.” It’s all relative.

  • Whoops! I failed this one right away today! I thought I had forgotten to do something at work and was FREAKING OUT. Luckily, when I called in I discovered that I HADN’T forgotten….but even if I had, growling at my hubby and the dog wouldn’t have helped anything. D’oh. Thanks for the reminder, I’ll do better with the next problem.

  • Bud Grovhoug

    I guess I can do a fair job of not flying off the handle and try to down play what has just happened,
    Where I need work, as my beloved wife can attest to, is when I got behind the wheel of m y truck.
    I transform into an impatient, get out of my way, horn honking monster!
    When I get to whereever I’m and and get out of my truck transform back to mild mannered me; wondering what all the fuss and rush was all about.
    All I did was to work myself up and those around me…..HELP!!….LOL
    lt’s really not a laughing matter…It just strikes me funny how fast the transition from positive to negative to positive again.

  • Janet

    What a wonderful thought- Act the way you want to feel. My world would be a lot calmer, if I live by these words. I’m starting now.

  • Grandma Honey

    I think this is similar to what I use to go through when my sons were sick. At first I would panic and think, no, this is not a good time for that. Then I would adjust and actually enjoy just staying home with them and letting the world pass by. Now my sons are all grown and have families of their own….but looking back those sick days with them are some of my fondest memories.

  • Jen in SD

    Day 4 and we are going strong. I read the challange aloud for myself & my husband the minute we wake up. Todays was great because he stepped up and said, “ok I’ll really try this”…he is the king of over reacting about the house not being spotless. I love the comment below, Not everything requires a response. Love that! jen

    • gretchenrubin

      So happy to hear you’re finding it useful!

  • jdquilt

    I love this lesson – it’s yoga for your mouth and brain. Self-awareness and being in the moment rather than acting in the moment are things I can really use and model with my teens.

  • Malerie Hartley

    This is definitely a practice I need to put in place! I also fly off the handle at times, some things just push my buttons, or I’m really tired and my patience is low. I find I get SO worked up and find it impossible to calm myself down even though, in my head, I’m saying to myself “You’re overreacting, CALM DOWN!”

  • unadiane

    Under-reacting is a great goal! I feel so much better when I don’t yell and scream and stomp around like a lunatic. It helps me to remember that I wouldn’t behave that way in front of certain people (employer, pastor, professionals), so why should I behave that way any time? While in a support group meeting, a man said, “I don’t have to attend every fight I’m invited to.” Wow! I love that, and I’ve never forgotten it.

  • MelanieGH

    There’s a great word in French, “betise,” for little irritations/annoyances. It’s kind of nice to have a word to label things that are only kind of annoying and not really worth scolding or reacting over––especially with kids. Instead of getting really frustrated, it’s easy to just say, okay, enough betises; time to be good.

  • Karen

    I”ve under reacted for most of my married life. At first my husband found it frustrating, now he sometimes under reacts too. Works a treat. i shall endeavour to take this even further. Am loving this challenge, thank you so much!

  • Lisa Youens

    I read your book a couple of weeks ago and have been working on this one in particular since then. I seem to be unflappable with my junior high students but easily “flapped” with my own small children. I was hating the thought that their memories of me would involve a lot of yelling or speaking in an annoyed voice. One of the resolutions I have made after reading your book was to keep my voice and my tone level, especially when I want to the least! It is making a big difference already in how I interact with my girls!

    • gretchenrubin

      I’m so happy to hear that my book is proving useful. This is certainly one of my biggest ongoing struggles!

  • It sounds like the most important thing I’ve learnt from my husband: wait a moment, take breath, think, and finally react.
    It’s a way to not over-react and control myself. For me it’s natural to react immediatly at work and at home. It’s hard to learn to be different, not to speak immediatly. Anyway it’s really useful.

  • marissa

    i needed this right this moment. i was about to over react to something really stupid, which comes easily for me. then i remembered that i didnt check the relationship challenge. i decided to check here first before deciding what to do. im so glad i did!! not only am i not going to over react, im going to not react at all, which is damn near impossible for me. my partner is an under reactor i know if our situations were reverse, he would not respond to something so trivial. i want to give him the same trust and love that he gives me. thanks Gretchen and commenters. you really saved my day from a “relationship anxiety attack” (love that new term).

  • Miljana

    I don’ t understand the real meaning of the notion or phrase “under-react to problems”. ?!

    • gretchenrubin

      Instead of reacting in a dramatic way, try to under-react with a deliberately calm voice, slow speech, cheerful tone, humorous response, etc.

  • Miljana

    Oooo, dear Lady, you pick me just in the center. Humorous response, but cheerful tone too, are my favorite. Of course, sometimes that helps, some time doesn’t help too much. But, generally it does help a lot, and to you and to the others to put the hot-fire-ball down, to relacs and create the better armosphere in relationships and situations at home and outside. Keep good vibrations and positive thinks, and choose humorous response in every possible situations. Have a nice day!

  • Steph

    Learned about under-reacting when the kids were small…if you thought it was bad, they did too. Conversely, no big deal made, then life went on a bit smoother!

  • bamboobonnie

    Laughter is a great release! When little problems come up, smiling and finding the rainbow in the cloud can help lighten the mood immediately.

  • Elizabeth

    This sure was timely for me. I just under-reacted to my husband drilling a hole in one of our water pipes as he was hanging some organizing items in the garage. Tomorrow I’ll get to under-react to living without water and hiring a plumber, dry-wall patcher and painter on holiday (MLK) hours, as my husband is scheduled for a procedure on his spine (thus, the masculine form of nesting in the garage tonight).

  • I come from a place of rising above and seeing the bigger picture while taking lots of breaths. As a psychotherapist, role model, mom of two adults, a wife for over 42 years and author of the book, “What Do You Expect? She’s A Teenager! I practice what I coach and advise. It works great for me. Yes under-reacting, I like that very much and I love the calm, the home as a refuge as it truly is meant to be.
    Thank you Gretchen:)

  • Lotta

    I love it!! I am on day 4 and already so much smarter, this is my thing! Just kissed my husband goodnight. Best challenge ever! Tomorrow I will under-react.

  • trufflepig

    I prefer to respond to problems rather react – to act rather than react, that way I have my feelings but choose how I respond.

  • Nicole

    What exactly does it mean to under-react (to a problem)??? I have been told many times to under-react, but never told how to do it! When I hear the word “under-react,” I think of ignoring or minimizing a problem, but you say that is not it. Hence, I would like to try this resolution, but would like practical suggestions on how to execute it.

  • Maria Calise-Block

    I always ask myself this one question….Is it serious enough…am I going to die….or can I live through this? I talk my anger down, and become more “fix-it”…what’s more important “the relationship” or the “problem”? Life is choice…don’t add to the drama.