By Dr. Victor S. Sierpina

We, as a conscious species, tend to look at external events as determining the course of our lives.

Likely this was true in our prehistoric ancestors’ era when failure to respond to a hungry saber-tooth tiger would be a matter of not merely uncomfortable stress but rather the discomfort of getting chewed to death or at least bleeding rather heavily.

In our day, external threats, though they still exist in the battlefield and certain neighborhoods, are generally less pressing.

More common for most of us are internal threats, our own thinking, and how we choose to respond to the world around us.

Let me illustrate what I am talking about. At a recent talk I attended by Mary Mannin Morrissey, a well-known spiritual teacher and author, she gave an example of something she learned at age 22 that might be helpful to you.

One Sunday, she went to a church service where the speaker suggested a way to reverse the reflexive habit of an external action causing an immediate reaction.

Simply put, it was hitting the pause button for 72 hours. The minister advised that we can make a choice when something bad happened.

That is to delay our immediate emotional and mental reaction for 72 hours. We can do this by looking for the good in the situation.

This requires a philosophical and spiritual change of perspective to incorporate into consciousness the metaphysical and also eminently practical statement of author Napoleon Hill: “Every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit.”

Since seeds and people don’t tend to grow instantly, creating some time for positive thoughts and ideas to arise in the midst of a seemingly bad situation requires some internal gardening, weeding, watering and nurturing. This takes time, hence, the 72- hour pause button.

Just a couple days later something happened to Mary to give her practice with this new pause button approach. At the time, she was a young mother of two and a college student in Portland, Ore.

Abruptly, her husband had lost his job along with 900 of his fellow employees when their plant closed.

Normal reaction? How about panic, fear, anxiety, financial worries, how are we going to feed the kids, pay tuition?

Those would be the kinds of thoughts and the heart-stressing emotions that normally accompany such a situation, and that immediately came up for them.

Having to face these fears to an external situation, they decided to try the 72-hour pause. Instead of catastrophizing, she and her husband started to look for the seed of benefit in the sudden unemployment.

Maybe he could find a job closer than his current 90-minute commute, maybe at more pay, maybe at a job that was more energizing and interesting and so on.

Punching the pause instead of the panic button, he applied for several positions and found a dream job, commutable by bicycle, which he loved, close to their home for more money.

Not only did they both avoid the internal stress of worry and fear, their attitudes and optimism helped attract the new and improved situation into their lives.

So, the lesson is the next time something bad happens, act, don’t react. Decide to give it some time to evolve and focus on what you want, not what you don’t want. Be grateful for what you have rather than regretting what you don’t have.

Look for the good in the situation. Likely you will attract it, and will feel better, more poised and less stressed while doing so.

And some things don’t even require a 72-hour pause. The next time someone says something that hurts your feelings, says something that might damage your relationship, a careless driver cuts you off, or any of life’s minor annoyances happen, hit pause and look for the good in the situation.

Remember the old “count to 10” concept? This is similar except more purposeful in that it challenges you to be grateful instead of hurt, angry or depressed.

Maybe it is just 72 seconds or 72 minutes rather than 72 hours. The law of attraction teaches us that by focusing on what you want rather than what you don’t want helps bring the benefits springing from any adversity into your life.

Like the old soft drink jingle, it is the pause that refreshes.

Dr. Victor S. Sierpina is the WD and Laura Nell Nicholson Family Professor of Integrative Medicine and Professor of Family Medicine at UTMB.