You don’t feel proud, but sometimes you can’t help it. Anger takes control of the situation and you end up embarrassing yourself in public, or entering in a discussion you didn’t want to. Sometimes it is nobody’s fault, just a series of bad circumstances piling up until the outburst happens. The main point is that you didn’t want to get so mad, but you did. You snapped. And then everything was a mess despite your best try to keep it down.
You have to know that this happens to all of us. Anger is powerful and necessary: it serves a function. But it shouldn’t rule your life. You are in control. Looking into the past has no use, my friend. Take a deep breath and let it go. It is time to focus on doing better the next time anger takes the best of you.
Just a warning: This will require your entire commitment and determination, so if you are expecting a “count ten” or “relax” kind of article, you better move to another one. But if you follow the instructions, I promise that anger will never rule again your life.
1. To Stop the Gun You Need to Know What Is the Trigger
Anger might be more or less accepted, but let’s be honest: it is part of the human behavior. It helps us to understand things that make us feel uncomfortable, threatened or upset. However, how we manage it is our choice.
The first step to assure your victory in this battle is dating your enemy. It is impossible to fight a fear if you don’t know what it is. To know how anger plays you each time you snap, you have to get underneath its skin.
It is vital that you understand why.
Here are repeated patterns that people feel identified with:
- Have you feel that something was unfair? Probably you have been blamed (even punished) for something you weren’t responsible for.
- Have you feel you were losing control? Your job was threatened, your partner broke up with you, or a great opportunity passed by.
- Have you feel physical or emotional pain? A rough discussion or a bad injury that persisted.
- Have you feel threatened? Somebody criticized your work or said you could do better.
These are common causes to get really stressed out, even mad. Nobody likes not being rewarded for a good job or deal with a messy house when you get home tired. You and I, we both have expectations that need to be fulfilled, and when that is cut short, frustration reveals itself.
Do not underestimate the relevance of this step.
Identifying your triggers is the main key to manage your anger correctly. You are a smart, strong individual and you can do better than a temper tantrum when you don’t get your way. Take a few moments to think about some things that trigger your frustrations: from the way somebody talked to you yesterday to the annoying traffic lights.
2. Feeding the Wrong Habit
Anger is a habit —not a good one, of course. You might not have thought about it, but the same way that as soon as you wake up you [get dressed / brush your teeth / drink a glass of water / whatever that applies], when you see something that doesn’t fit your expectations, anger skyrockets.
Take a quick look to these habits:
- Waking up is the trigger — brushing your teeth is the reaction — fresh sensation in your mouth is your reward.
- A sudden twist of your plans is the trigger — anger is the reaction — releasing the frustration through a tantrum is your reward.
- The alarm is the trigger — hitting the snooze is the reaction — having 5 more minutes to sleep off is the reward.
And we love those 5 more minutes.
Habits, no matter how complicated they are, are always constructed by these three basic elements. The problem is that you have interiorized anger as your natural reaction and you no longer think about it: that is the tricky aspect of habits.
Charles Duhigg does a great job explaining habits’ formation and how they rule our lives on The Power of Habit. It is a simple process that if you conquer today, will give you an incredible power and control over your own decisions. Habits are a loop of actions and reactions you perform unconsciously. Master your awareness and you will triumph over your habits —and of course, over your anger.
Here is a simple exercise:
If you have already identified some of your triggers, fill up the blanks to get a bigger picture. This will help you to clarify the process and move to the next step.
[blank] is my trigger — [blank] is my reaction — [blank] is my reward
3. Breaking the Chain of Reactions
Once you are aware about how your habit looks like, it is time to change it. And here is where it gets awkward. Bear with me. You and I have heard thousands of times “relax”, “count until 10”, etc. All lies.
Let’s face it: when your anger gets to the dangerous point of a boiling pot, there are not many chances to stop it. Relaxing techniques work when you are able to realize you are getting into a hazardous area, not when you are already in it. That is about awareness and it takes longer to master.
So instead of trying to breathe and take control over the situation —which you have failed to do hundreds of time—, try to do something absolutely radical.
Don’t think: Just do it.
- Shut up, stand up and jump.
- Tell a bad joke.
- Sing a song.
Yes, you read me well. Do something absolutely ridiculous and not related.
Don’t call me crazy yet. What we are doing here is breaking a habit right in the middle of its process.
The faster way to stop your next fight is link a completely different reaction to the habit. When you are about to break down, I promise that if you switch what you are doing before (or even during) letting the anger out, all the hard feelings will go away in a second. However, don’t leave the situation. You are not avoiding it, just cutting the habit.
You might feel embarrassed but the frustration will automatically cease because in the end, we are more in control of it than we like to think. Next time, you will remember the feeling and your frustration will slow down. If you don’t believe me, give it a shoot and come back later amazed by its effect.
You might be wondering…
If it works, why nobody is doing this?
Easy: they focus on the wrong strategy.
Many people believe that if you acquire a deeper understanding on how your anger works, you will be able to stop it by snapping your fingers. “Let’s dig into the root of the problem!”
There are only two ways to change your behavior: you avoid the trigger or you switch the reaction. I want you to understand this because my goal is that you regain control. I am not trying to “stop” anger since it is a natural feeling —and a useful one. I am preventing you from letting it get to your nerves and rule your life.
Once you have cut the process several times, you will be able to discern the moments before anger drives you completely nuts. That is the point you want to achieve. Then, you will be able to take it easy and act rationally.
4. Letting the Anger Go Away
People say that one shouldn’t let the anger out, but if you don’t get rid of it eventually it will be more harmful.
This doesn’t mean you have to yell or create an uncomfortable silence: there are ways to let it out without making a scene that actually help to tame your temper. Getting upset is a sign that something is not going as you expected and that generates frustration. It is a natural warning sign.
Sometimes, the frustration grows so fast that it bursts into pure anger. Once you are able to prevent the “boom!” by managing your anger, it is time to release the frustration in a healthier way. Breaking things, screaming to the nothingness or doing whatever you used to do during a tantrum, it is not the way.
What you create by doing that is another bad habit. You are not crushing it, just pushing it away for a little bit.
Once the tension is gone, it is a good moment to reflect and talk. If you don’t like sharing feelings with others, you can always write it down or go somewhere to write anonymously (Reddit will do for this). This way you are opening a door to kick out your frustration.
However, don’t fall into these commons mistakes:
- Don’t focus on the problem: this means, don’t over think it. Try to identify the trigger and then, let it be in the past.
- Don’t blame others: reflection is time to heal, not to judge.
- Don’t get stuck on the things you did wrong: find the things you have done differently this time.
- If you didn’t change the pattern, don’t be too hard on yourself. Try to acknowledge what went wrong.
By doing these you are not only approaching a different way to release the frustration, you are also redefining a new pattern of thinking. This is called Cognitive Restructuring, and it helps you to deal with problems differently. To reinforce this pattern, you can ask yourself these questions and answer sincerely:
- Could you have avoided the trigger?
- Could you have approached the situation differently?
- Do you regret something you did or said?
- Should ask for forgiveness?
5. Changing Your Habits is Changing Your Life
There are many other practices you can add on top of these ones to create a more solid and consistent habit to manage your anger. The easiest one is avoid your triggers, right?
If you know that getting stuck in traffic won’t help your morning, try to leave home earlier so you skip the rush-hours. If fast food hurts your stomach, find a please were you can get healthier meals for the week. There is a solution for almost every problem: be wise.
Meditating, learning breathing techniques, even seeking professional help or supportive groups are a great core of resources to have on mind. Taming your anger it is not a sign of weakness but a sign of self-discipline.
There is no need to get overwhelmed by your frustrations and make a scene each time something goes wrong, ruinning your day. You are better than that. You are in control of your anger therefore you are in control of your life. Acknowledging this will make you more confident and strong.
Next time, you won’t feel embarrassed; you will be proud.
Featured photo credit: Stefan Kunze via albumarium.com