Don’t get angry: Pause. Breathe. Respond.

A mantra can be a great way to underscore your mentality and remind yourself what you want to achieve.

Reciting “be like water” or “go with the flow” when faced with changes or challenges will remind yourself of what your ultimate goal is when it comes to adapting to the situations that life might throw at you.

Creating a motto for adaptability isn’t unique. In fact, the United States Marines use something similar: for decades, their motto has been “Improvise. Adapt. Overcome.”

Semper Gumby, a play on semper flexibilis (always flexible) is another unofficial motto commonly used throughout the U.S. military.

In the Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu frequently reminds us to consider the path and properties of water while responding to particular situations. How would water respond to the obstacles it comes into contact with? What effect would water have on its environment?

Water is fluid, soft, and yielding. But water will wear away rock, which is rigid and cannot yield.
— Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

Imagine a narrow stream of water making its way down a gentle slope. The water reaches a large rock that completely blocks its path. It slowly builds up into a larger pool. Soon, the water will find its own way around or over the rock through a path of least resistance.

This metaphor leads into our own mantra for adaptability: Pause, Breathe, Respond.

    1. Pause. Before you react to any situation, force yourself to pause and consider the best course of action. As the water stops when it reaches the rock, so should you when you encounter change or an obstacle.
    2. Breathe. While paused, take a moment to focus on your breathing. You can use the ki breathing technique described earlier; a single inhalation and exhalation is enough. As you breathe, picture the water slowly building up in front of the rock.
  1. Respond. Note the difference between a response and a reaction; a reaction is often involuntary, while a response is carefully considered. After pausing to consider your options, respond in the manner that best suits your needs in the same way the water finds a path around the rock.

This mantra can be used as an action plan whenever coming into contact with an obstacle, a change, or an unexpected event. In these instances, you may feel like you are forced to react quickly; instead, take a moment to pause, breathe, and respond and you will find that your decision-making can dramatically improve.

Say the mantra “pause, breathe, respond” to yourself to remind yourself of your action plan and have it stored to recall when needed. Picture the stream of water and how it approaches the rock, and imagine your response to change flowing in the same natural manner.


At MaArtial, we believe that the use of a mantra can help cement a particular mindset and get rid of extraneous thoughts. One of the most well-known mantras in today’s world has been successfully used as a slogan by Nike: “Just do it.”

This particular mantra can help remind us to take a moment to stop and fully absorb our current situation.

Claude Debussy once said “The music is not in the notes, but in the silence between them.” Bruce Lee used a “Stop-Start” fighting technique during combat to be able to fully respond to his environment. Reminding ourselves to remember what is really important can help us do the right thing during unexpected events.

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Photo: Abstract Aerial Art/Getty Images, Daniel Bosma/Getty Images

Confidence on Demand

Put the principles described in this article into practice to develop your own sense of courage and self-confidence.

The free MaArtial app, now available on the App Store and Google Play, contains 100+ easy-to-practice guided mental exercises designed to boost your daily confidence. These include dynamic affirmationspowerful visualizations, and much more. Take the first step towards a more confident you today: 

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