Think Before You Speak… Mindfully

think before you speak

The Whole Point of Mindfulness

Mindfulness extends further than the well-known sitting sessions. We learn to apply mindful watchfulness to our habits and behaviors. At the root of the whole deal is the power of simply paying attention – the very definition of mindfulness, so let’s pay attention to what comes out of your mouth. Let’s think before you speak.

Have you said anything stupid, hurtful, premature, or inappropriate? You have? Really? I’m shocked.

A lack of control over what comes out of your mouth can cost you your reputation.

“So much depends on reputation – Guard it with your life” Law 5 of “The 48 Laws of Power”

Robert Greene

reputation, good reputation
Awareness of reputation is needed

Unskilled at Speaking? So What?

With unskilful use of words you can get yourself fired, divorced, unfriended and… that pay raise you’ve been obsessing about, isn’t going to happen. So let us turn to the wisdom traditions to learn how our words can serve us, and not sabotage us.

Buddhism has been kind enough to actually lay out rules for speech. They call it “Right Speech” or “samma vaca” if you prefer the original Pali. It does sound cool in Pali. I shall paraphrase. Here goes:

  • Don’t be a stinking liar.
  • Avoid criticism of others.
  • Don’t be vulgar or rude.
  • Avoid stupid chat and gossip.

It almost looks too simple to be of any use, but do you actually follow these rules? Let’s take a little look

The Golden Rules of the “Think Before You Speak” Universe

Don’t be a Stinking liar

You might not have told a great big whopper recently, but just maybe a little exaggeration, a little lie by omission, or what we might call “shading the truth” for dramatic or advancement purposes. All lies. Just know that it would be better to live free from all lies. Set your mind to the task of catching yourself in the very act of lying. No need to get angry at yourself for doing it, but take note of how much you do it.

the harmful effects of telling lies
If you lie, your nose grows..

Avoid Criticism of Others

Last year, a friend of mine got a divorce. I, for some reason, allowed my mouth to spill forth whatever popped into my head and “actually, I always thought he was a jerk” came out. Two months later, they were back together and I looked like an big meanie. Its hard to live these things down.

Don’t Be Vulgar Or Rude

This one can often slip under your radar because we learn our vulgarity early in life. In fact, many an adolescent develops an impressive (in a way) vulgar vocabulary. Teen culture is full of it, and it’s easy to feel somewhat attached to the way that age felt. It’s easy to feel personally comfortable with rude language, but we are adults.

think before you speak, be mindful in your actions
Being rude and vulgar might even feel good in the short term

“When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”

Corinthians (King James version)

Avoid Stupid Chat and Gossip

Many years ago, I sat at the lunch table with a group of high-ranking executives. They were comically discussing the people who “will never get anywhere in this company”. My ears pricked up, and they went on to describe what they called the “coffee machine people”. They had a point. Every time (and I do mean every time I went for a coffee) there would always be a cloud of people there, sipping coffee and talking about… anything other than work.

Harmless chat? No.

think about the effects of your words before you speak, consider the feelings of others
Gossip can be harmless, or not.

I heard them criticizing the wardrobe of one female colleague, moaning about the lack of holidays, feebly flirting and jabbering about one empty topic after another. “It’s not just the time-wasting either. Their idiot conversations tell me all I need to know” said one executive. As it happens, The gossip about the female colleague’s clothes actually ended very badly indeed. The disgruntled colleague found out about the gossip, and you can imagine the ensuing chaos.

These gossiping coffee machine lurkers were forgetting a perhaps even simpler maxim from the Christian tradition: “Speak the truth in love” Ephesians.

First, be Mindful

Think “The Mindful Way” Before You Speak

Everything the Buddhists and Christians advise us against, forms the stuff of habitual conversation. So, If you don’t watch yourself carefully, you’ll end up doing all of it. This means that our words, our tone and our intentions must all become clear to us if we are to use our speech wisely.

think before you speak in public
Give a presentation, record it and study your own speech.

Practical Steps

  1. Keep a written journal. Use a blank one if you like, or choose one with writing prompts. Both will teach you to choose your words carefully. It’s easy to then go back and check to see if you have let unskilful speech sneak it’s way onto the page. Once mastered the art of right speech on the written page, step up your game to the spoken word.
  2. Work on one unskilful habit at a time. Perhaps you have a favorite four-letter word that springs from your mouth with abandon. It’s an excellent place to start. Perhaps you tend to chime in with your opinions but you know that your intentions are really to “one up” someone or to look good in the eyes of others. Start here.
  3. Reflect nightly upon your communication. To what degree have you spoken wisely. If you are in the practice of nightly reflection on your speech, you train the brain to pay attention to your speech.
  4. Use an accomplice. You need someone you trust to tell you when you are speaking unwisely. It’s a little like that “swear box” that stood on my parents’ kitchen table for years. It cost us a pound-per-swearword, so we learned to speak like little angels.

Let us close then with some final wisdom from one of the grandmasters of our own age:

“When something’s bothering you and you’re too damn stupid to know what to do, just keep your fool mouth shut. At least that way, you won’t make things worse.”

Bart Simpson – The Simpsons, Season 1, Episode 9.

think before you speak, try to tune out the bad noise
The console in your head: Choose the thoughts you need to express, but always remember yo have the power to turn the volume down to zero at all times.

Brendan C. Clarke