“It is wise to direct your anger towards problems – not people; to focus your energies on answers – not excuses.”
William Arthur Ward
“Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret.”
“Never go to bed mad. Stay up and fight.”
The quickest way to cut anger out of a situation is to counteract it.
This article is Part 2 of a series of articles detailing how to use the “counterbalance strategy” to increase happiness and achieve self-mastery. Part 1 of the series discussed the concept of building mental toughness and included a story that is continued below. Click here to review Part 1.
Damaging Emotion: Anger (Frustration, Annoyance, Animosity, Resentment, Rage)
When Bryan broke down and called me a loser, for a split second I saw red and imagined throwing him in a wrestling headlock and squeezing until he begged me to stop. Yes, I thought, that would shut him up and make him respect me! Yes, that would teach him a lesson! Instead, I stood completely still, took a deep breath, and asked myself why I was angry. Part of his comment was true and part of it wasn’t true, so what? What was the point of being mad? More importantly, how was getting angry and retaliating going to help Bryan grow? Once I started thinking rationally again, I said, “I guess we are going to out here a little longer.” Then, I put Bryan and his friend through another 2-hour workout on the track. They went to bed at 3AM and woke up at 6AM with the rest of the camp for the next day’s first workout.
Almost everyone knows what it’s like to be angry. Anger is that feeling you get when someone says or does something that pushes you over the edge. Oh no they didn’t! Snap, your entire world shrinks to the size of a quarter. All you can see is what that person did wrong and how you are going to fix it – right now. Maybe your boss disrespected you or a coworker sent you an inflammatory email. Maybe a family member, friend, or significant other used a personal secret against you in an argument to prove their point. Either way, they screwed up big time and you’re going to show them exactly why they’re wrong. Of course, none of this does any good. By getting angry, you only add energy to a situation that is already spiraling downward and you give the other person more ammunition to attack you with. Anger is only good for one thing: damage. This quality can be useful in war and sport, but not in relationships and personal development. Learning to counter your anger is critical to developing as a leader and fulfilling your purpose in life.
Anger is the most powerful of the three damaging emotions (anger, fear, and pain). At the same time, it is the only one of the three emotions that is directed outwardly. Anger focuses you on an external target and drives you to take irrational and immediate action against that target. This is why losing control of your anger can reek havoc in your life. Being angry is like being drunk, you might think you can drive well, or even better than when you’re sober, but you can’t. In fact, you drive horribly. Understand: you are an awful strategist under the influence of anger. It is far better to bunker down and spend time adjusting your internal influences than it is to take immediate action. Unless someone’s life is in danger or you are in the middle of a sports competition, there is almost nothing that needs to be reacted against immediately. The sky is not going to fall if you don’t reply to your coworker’s sharply worded email in the next 5 minutes. Likewise, the whole world is not looking at your Facebook profile waiting for you to respond to a mean comment some hater made.
Counterattack: Stillness (Quietness, Inaction, Reflection, Foresight, *Exercise)
You can quickly cut anger out of a situation but counteracting it will stillness and reflection. First, recognize that you are feeling angry. Then, be still. From now on, treat any angry feelings you encounter as a bell signaling you to pause and reflect. This means that you stop moving, talking, writing, posting, and texting. Your psychology will reflect your physiology. This stillness will calm your mind just enough to evaluate how to best exit the situation. And you must exit. Get up from the computer, put down your phone, excuse yourself, and walk away. Then, keep walking. If you have time, go for a run or get a quick workout in at the gym. *Exercising alone will quench your mind’s desire for action while quieting your mind and turning your focus inward. There are very few things that anger is useful for outside of physical competition and training. It is not a means to increase happiness and it won’t help you find ways to enjoy life more.
Inwardness offsets anger. When you get upset, keep your attention inward by asking yourself why you are feeling angry and by dissecting your answers. Also, ask yourself what you will win by fighting back. If the only answer you can come up with is that you will regain respect, then pick a different battle. Asking yourself questions and considering your answers will center you and force your mind to start thinking rationally again. This is the same technique that is taught to business and entrepreneurship professionals by customer service training programs like Impact Learning Systems. Successful companies know that keeping their customers calm and making money go hand in hand. When a customer is flying off the handle about an incorrect drink order, these programs teach their trainees to calmly followup every tirade with a question. Engaging the angry client with a question helps refocus the client’s attention inward by shifting his mental energy away from the basal ganglia, the primal part of the brain, and towards his temporal lobe, the more advanced, planning part of the brain. Asking yourself questions when you are angry will literally channel blood to the rational part of your brain.
No One Plays A Villain In His Own Life
In his book, How To Win Friends And Influence People, Dale Carnegie describes the manhunt and capture of “Two Gun” Crowley, a cop-killer who is labeled as one of the most dangerous criminals ever encountered in the history of New York. When Crowley was finally caught, he was found with a note that read, “Under my coat is a weary heart, but a kind one – one that would do nobody any harm.” Al Capone, America’s most notorious Public Enemy, was quoted saying, “I have spent the best years of my life giving people the lighter pleasures, helping them have a good time, and all I get is abuse, the existence of a haunted man.” Some historians estimate that Capone ordered hits on over 500 people during his career in organized crime. Yet, he saw himself as a benefactor of humanity who helped others increase happiness.
Opt out of the blame game. Acknowledging the fact that no one sees themselves as a villain is an effective way to counteract anger. When angry, most people are driven by the desire to hold someone else’s behavior up to a mirror and say “See what you did wrong! You’re bad and I’m good!” Nothing is more worthless than energy spent trying to convince someone else they’re the villain. Of course, sometimes people take action specifically to hurt, or “wrong”, another person. But they never do it because they see themselves as a servant of evil. They do it because they think the other person deserves it. Their internal influences are telling them that they’re justified. In other words, they believe they are the hero, or heroine, of the situation. Understanding this phenomenon will help you gain perspective when you are angry, which will help you start thinking rationally again.
Finally, once you’ve calmed down, you can strategize and decide on an appropriate response. This can take anywhere from a few hours to a few days. If retaliation is required, you can exact your revenge with rational calculation and foresight. If the issue really wasn’t a big deal, and few issues are, you can ignore it or respond with tact and sincerity. Click here to continue to Part 3.