Somebody cuts you off in traffic. A co-worker again has left you out of an email chain that includes information you need. Your spouse snaps at you out of the blue.

Likely, you feel a sense of indignation. But before you react, wait.

Think about it--when has immediately reacting helped a situation? Sure, it's necessary in the event of an emergency when somebody needs to call 911 or do CPR. But life-threatening situations aside, whatever you're dealing with will likely turn out better if you give yourself some space for reflection.

Put some space between a challenge and your response

Sue Hawkes, in her book Chasing Perfection: Shatter the Illusion; Minimize Self-Doubt and Maximize Success, makes the point that how people interpret a situation dictates their experience. But interpretations aren't always accurate. She writes:

[W]e just go along for the ride with whatever emotional reaction we have when, instead, we could ask ourselves, "Wait a second, are these thoughts even true? Am I seeing things as they are, or am I reacting to something that's happened in the past?" Often our external responses to challenges are based on things we've internalized that have no basis in fact--and those "things" can be negative and self-defeating, challenging our internal sense of peace and groundedness.

Instead of reacting, she suggests pausing, reflecting, and breathing until you find your internal balance.

Controlling your attitude is a big part of success

Admit it, reacting emotionally is easy to do. Yet achieving success often entails doing difficult things. Lance Tyson, author of Selling Is an Away Game: Close Business and Compete in a Complex World, puts it this way:

Successful people are concerned with pleasing outcomes. Unsuccessful people are concerned with a pleasing process. A successful person is totally focused on the result. An unsuccessful person is worried about how it feels doing it.

If you want good results, do the difficult work of consciously thinking through what's true and deliberately choosing a path that is helpful.

There's a difference between reacting and responding

It's an important distinction, according to Richard B. Joelson, a clinical social work psychotherapist practicing in New York City. Reacting is acting in opposition to something without deliberation, often immediately. Responses involve careful thought, are often well-presented, and demonstrate respect for the other person. "When people who are struggling with being too reactive recognize the damage it can do and start to deliberately formulate thoughtful responses, rather than impulsive reactions, their interactions begin to reflect a higher degree of emotional competency," he writes. "As a result, they live with much less regret and lessen the need to repair the damage to their relationships with others."