We would all love to go about our day calmly and peacefully, dealing with life’s challenges with poise and self-control. But most of us are not like that. When life piles too much on, some of us have a tendency to explode.
We all know that a furious outrage feels great in the moment, but afterwards makes you feel rotten.
None of us are likely to become saints, we will always get mad from time to time. But we can learn how to avoid being overrun with frustration until we burst with rage or have a full-blown hissy fit.
I have come a long way in this respect, I know it is possible to change how you react to pressure.
The first rule of anger management: Don’t bottle things up
I have been going through a couple of events the past week that were emotionally intense.
When I am in my default mode, I tend to avoid these emotions and put off any actions needed to bring it to closure. I suppress the bad temper I can feel arising, hoping that it will soon go away.
Now I know too well that this approach only serves me for a very short term, for a day or two at most. It will always backfire on me with three times the intensity.
Repressing emotions and avoidance has been a major pattern my whole life. I’d rather turn my head the other way than face reality and not have to deal with the energy in my body that emotions are creating.
So it is serving me in the short term. I get distracted for a day or two, I get to not do anything about it and it’s great… for a day or two.
But these emotions and feelings are building up and the longer I wait, the harder and bigger that ball of energy is stuck in my body. I feel achy, I have palpitations, I am grumpy, jumpy and stroppy and in a negative loop of anger.
Thankfully I am now able to quickly realise when I enter this loop and I am no longer in denial.
I can see the patterns and see myself employing the usual tactics, knowing that it is just delaying the inevitable eruption.
Averting a catastrophe using the 90 second rule
Did you know, according to Harvard brain scientist Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, ninety seconds is all it takes to identify an emotion and allow it to dissipate while you simply notice it.
In these moments, I usually tell myself, “Okay, today is a bad day. You are allowed to have one, but soon you will have to deal with it. You know this is not helping you. Your time is too precious to be wasted in this mental crisis. You could really use this mental space for a better purpose.”
Giving myself this pep talk gives me an opportunity to choose. I can either indulge myself in this negative and depressive loop or take personal responsibility, meet with the feelings, accept them and do something about it.
But this week, I was just too tired to do this, and I did not give myself those crucial 90 seconds. My daughter had been waking up every morning before 6am and waking up at night at least twice – I was like “give me a break please”.
It’s normal to get irritable when we are tired, it’s the lizard brain in us.
This particular day not only was I tired from lack of sleep, I had an unexpected, unprecedented life event.
This was a dangerous concoction, which resulted in a grown up tantrum.
Thankfully these episodes are becoming less and less frequent.
It all came out suddenly, no surprise here. The great news is I have an understanding husband who knows me pretty well. He sent me off to bed and allowed me to just be with myself and recover.
After a good sleep, I came back to my senses. And I remembered… I have been doing self-development work, inner work for the past few years, and recently discovered that soon after a crisis I have a breakthrough moment. I knew that I could learn from this event once again to transform some more, to grow and find new insights.
Having these crises reminds me every time a little more how much I don’t want it to happen again. They remind me that I always have a choice to either face a situation as it arises, deal with it and move on nicely or ignore it and let it consume me and my family. I get to learn more about myself, my triggers, my patterns so I can be quicker at recognising and dealing with them.
If we meet our anger and frustration with acceptance and curiosity, 90seconds is all it takes to avert a catastrophe and resume life as normal. If I had given myself the full 90 seconds, I would have realised that I was exhausted and needed some rest.
When we resist our emotions, it creates a conflict inside of us and this is when it gets painful and potentially explosive.
Try this with familiar unwanted feelings such as anger. Next time you get triggered by someone or something, give yourself a 90 second break. Your mind will try to find ways to fight, but the more often you do the practice the easier it will get.
Yes, I’m still practicing. It takes time to change lifetime habits, but the sooner we start, the sooner we learn and change for the better.
Being aware of our patterns is the first step towards long-lasting change.
Once you see how you react towards a specific situation, you can take some time and space to understand why you are doing it (instead of judging it), and make conscious and informed choices. Either you let your old programming run or you chose to hack it.
Recognising your pattern
Find a quiet comfortable space for the next 15minutes. Take a few deep breaths and set the intention to be curious without judgement. Then look back at your day, your week and your month to find the governing patterns in your life (complaining, blaming, procrastination, giving up, distraction etc.)
Scrutinise each pattern to find out what triggers it. Think about how it appears, how it makes you feel and what benefits it gives you.
Now I invite you to be more curious next time you find yourself about to indulge in your pattern. Activate the 90 second rule and allow yourself to make a conscious choice on the next action.
Or if you have indulged already, can you meet it with compassion rather than judgement and learn from it so next time you can try to lessen its effects.
Change and transformation is a process. It takes time, patience, compassion and consistency. Trust the process and soon you will start to see the changes happening.