“How do you stay so calm?” It’s a question I get often. The truth is, there are times when I have to master my temper before it results in something bad. Staying in better shape, being more in touch with my emotions, helps me do that. It’s gotten better over time, but these days, I ask myself the question, “Why did THIS make you angry?” I keep asking questions of myself until I understand why I’ve “almost” lost my temper. I’m not saint, though. It takes me a long time to get angry, and I have to have evidence you’re out to get me for whatever the reason. I suppose that I can’t abide liars, people who don’t do what they said they would do. Of course, I suffer from those faults myself. Everyone does, no? But we have to work at improving ourselves.

In Crucial Conversations or Confrontations, the authors point out that the path many follow. Something happens, they tell themselves a story about that (“You jerk, you are out to screw me over!"), then act on it…only to find out, to their chagrin, that they’ve got it all wrong. That the other person wasn’t to blame or even involved.

I often remind others of Hanlon’s Razor:

“Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.”

That’s one I have often run afoul of, so I keep it in mind when working with others.

Embrace Curiosity

Getting ahold of yourself is about changing your reaction. The best way, as the authors suggest and I agree from my own experience, is to get curious. Get curious about what’s happening. Do your best to engage in System II thinking that is slower and more methodical.

Asking Questions

Melanie Trecek-King suggests one way to challenge our beliefs (often formed at the instant we perceive a hurt or pain) about a situation. She says:

  1. Ask yourself, “What would it take to prove my belief wrong?”
  2. If your belief is falsifiable, actively look for evidence to prove yourself wrong. If the belief is true, it will withstand scrutiny. If not true, evidence will disprove it.
  3. Accept the evidence.
  4. Change your mind

I love that last item, Change Your Mind. It’s not so easy, especially when you’ve invested your emotions into your belief.

An Example

I like to think of it this way:

You have a pain. You do some web searches and discover symptoms match the pain you have. You start to look for more information that confirms your belief that suffer from that malady you self-diagnosed yourself with.

You start to feel horrible. By the time you get to the doctor, and they send you off for blood tests, you’re convinced you’re going to die.

Then, the blood tests come back. You read the tests and they confirm what you knew all along–death is at your door. Then, you visit the doctor.

The diagnosis they have for you doesn’t match your’s. You let your fears tumble out (or worse, you hide them from the doctor) and you cite your internet searches.

The doctor confirms you have something, but it’s not life threatening.

Since the news is good, you laugh in relief, then change your mind.

Look for Evidence

The same thing happens when someone ticks you off at work, in the drive through, on your way to work in the car, etc. Except, there’s little evidence as to their mal intent except that you know they are working to hurt you.

A Quote

In those cases, keep this quote in mind from Marcus Aurelius:

“You shouldn’t give circumstances the power to rouse anger, for they don’t care at all.” —MARCUS AURELIUS, MEDITATIONS, 7.38