Stop Being So Angry in 4 StepsNone By Homaira Kabir
Here’s what I’ve discovered: Self-awareness is only half the game.. Self-management is also essential if we are to become better versions of ourselves.
These days, I’m struggling with the challenges of having a young and restless family home on summer break. Late nights and lazy days are pumping my kids with energy and they’re bursting at the seams. Without the quiet time I’m used to getting during school days, I find myself flipping my lid at little irritations, then feeling guilty and upset after.
To help prevent this, I’ve come up with a four-step process.. It’s based on the self-management cycle in cognitive behavioral therapy where physiology, emotion, and thought work together to lead to our best behavior. If you’re struggling with your own set of challenges (because we all are), I hope this cool-down technique helps you, too.
Step 1: Breathe
Viktor Frankl, a psychologist who survived the horrors of the Holocaust, famously said: “Between stimulus and response, there’s a space.” Taking a breath allows us to hang back in this space long enough to let our slower conscious brains catch up and think through to the better response. Whether it’s the children bickering, or a snide comment from a colleague, take a few deep breaths before saying or doing anything. As you breathe, refrain from feeding your emotions and bring your attention back to your breath every time it slips away. It helps to have a mantra that you keep repeating to yourself; because, remember, the brain is not good at multi-tasking.
Step 2: Think
You’ll know you’re ready to think when your body feels less tense. You can now engage your conscious brain to widen your perspective, which narrows sharply when we’re angry or upset. Asking yourself questions helps. For example, could it be that your partner or child was snarky because they had a bad day and were hoping for your empathy and attention? Could it be that your colleague cut you off during the meeting because they were trying to get through the agenda or were simply distracted and not paying attention? Even if the behavior was intentional, would reacting angrily benefit you— especially in the long term—or simply make a bad situation worse?
Step 3: Empathize
From a more grounded place, you can expand your perspective to also include the person(s) with whom you’re angry. Opening up to another person’s beliefs, experiences, and intentions may not be easy because we live in a world that prizes certainty and confidence in our own beliefs. It’s also a world where that certainty about our beliefs may be the only constant we have amid perpetual change; a world where we have precious little time to question our beliefs. Still, if we want to be better individuals in an increasingly connected world, we need to become open to hearing comments and opinions that upset or enrage us. Management consultant Margaret Wheatley says that we need to ask ourselves how these opposing ideas are at odds with our own assumptions—and whether we need an upgrade.
Step 4: Act
With this wealth of knowledge, we can engage in “pro-social” behavior that benefits us and our relationships. While unmanaged anger is often an ego-based reaction to safeguard a fragile sense of self, a compassionate response is about the well-being of an important relationship. Sometimes this may mean simply letting go of the comment or changing our beliefs and expectations. Sometimes it could also mean recognizing “righteous” anger and directing it productively. Wharton professor Adam Grant says that one of the best ways of doing so is to think of the victims who have suffered as a result of the comments or situation. Research shows that when we are angry for someone, we want to help instead of seeking vengeance or punishment. This shift in perspective, for example, can help a lot of people who are struggling with political comments that anger them.
In her book 12 Steps to a Compassionate Life, author Karen Armstrong writes: “Compassion… asks us to look into our own hearts, discover what gives us pain, and then refuse, under any circumstance whatsoever, to inflict that pain on anybody else.” It doesn’t mean sacrificing our values. But it does mean letting go of revenge.
Homaira writes, coaches, and teaches about confidence, and about life. Her short confidence quiz is based on her scientific research and will help you find out whether your confidence is fragile or authentic.
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