Sometimes you’re just pissed.
You don’t mean to be frustrated or short fused with anyone, but you didn’t get enough sleep. You were cut off in traffic. You just got fired. You were beat as a kid. Someone you love died. In short, you’ve got problems. You tap the well to force a smile, but it just won’t happen. You keep coming up dry.
It happens to all of us. I wonder sometimes if the Dalai Lama goes into a cussing fit once in a while. I know he get’s angry. Nobody is perfect.
That’s the point. Nobody is perfect. Allow that one to set in.
Your problems are not unique. Problems are just one of many webs that bind us all together on this living spaceship. Get to know any person in the world, and you will soon discover they have a whole set of problems. Many of their problems will be identical to yours. Your bad day isn’t so unique. It just happens to be yours.
So the world conspired against you today. It sucks. It doesn’t feel fair. That doesn’t give you a license to be an asshole.
It’s Normal To Feel This Way
That’s right. Normal. Nobody expects you to be a monk. You would look funny in those robes anyway.
Somebody got under your skin. It hurt and it pissed you off. That’s ok. Don’t beat yourself up, and don’t let the anger build. Realize your feelings are normal. This realization will dampen some of the strong emotions you feel.
Label That Feeling
You can make an instant reduction in your stress just by recognizing the emotion. Give it a name. Are you mad? Acknowledge you feel angry. Are you frustrated? Allow yourself to realize you’re feeling frustration. This is a method that will strengthen your awareness of your own thoughts. Your increased awareness will lead to better control.
One suggested method is to just ask yourself if the thoughts or emotions you’re having are positive or negative. That will put you in the right direction. I borrowed my favorite and preferred method from James Altucher. His suggestion to identify thoughts as useful or not useful is both simple and effective.
Begin checking in with your thoughts as often as you think of it. I will get frustrated with my 6 month old daughter when she’s extra fussy. I ask myself if that’s useful or not. The answer is no. Feeling frustrated doesn’t change her diaper or calm her down. I mess something up and hear that internal voice say, “That was stupid.” Was that useful? No again. Criticizing myself doesn’t fix mistakes. You gain more control of your internal reactions when you start recognizing and labeling the emotion or thought as it arises. Label early and often.
Realize You Have a Choice
Have you ever had a bad day at work then came home and snapped at someone you love? It doesn’t feel good once you realize what you’ve done. It’s even worse when you start justifying your behavior based on your bad day. Something negative happened to you and it stuck. Now you’re taking that event into every other part of your day. You may not even realize why you’re so irritated. That’s what makes your reaction to the initial event important.
Here’s a simple truth. The knowledge you have a choice can reduce your stress response.
Your emotional response to any situation flows out of your reaction or interpretation of the event. Your initial reaction is going to catch you by surprise most of the time. You need to realize you can change your reaction. It’s your choice. I would argue it’s your responsibility. That is great power right in your own hands.
I deal with some of the rudest people you can find when I bartend. In the course of one night I could break up a fight, be called any number of nasty names, be accused of short changing a customer, hear complaints, begging for more liquor than is paid for, and suffer through poor jukebox choices. Imagine how empty my tip cup would be if I carried around all that negative energy into every interaction. It would be worse if I came home with all that garbage in the front of my mind. The people I care about don’t deserve to deal with those problems I had at work. It wouldn’t be fair or kind.
This is more than just saying don’t bring your work home. This applies to anything that makes you grumpy or outright angry. The negative attitude will affect your decisions and your interactions with other people. It’s your choice how you react.
Imagine you just poured yourself a drink. You made it two steps out of the kitchen when you tripped on a toy in the floor. Your drink spilled, you dropped your glass, and now your foot hurts. It wasn’t fun. It might even be embarrassing with witnesses. Was it the end of the world? No. When you tell the story later it will be funny. Why wouldn’t you laugh now? Even if you initially curse your luck remember to check if that thought was really useful or not. Once you realize it’s not useful, go ahead and appreciate the humor of your situation. There was no conspiracy against you so don’t act like there was.
Reinterpret The Event
This is one of my favorite techniques for making changes in life. Reframing. It will give you miles and miles of stress relief. Essentially, you’re putting a different spin on the event.
Imagine you were sitting at a red light. The car behind you suddenly jerks forward and bumps your car. Your heart starts racing, and you look in the rear view mirror to see the driver behind you is on his phone. You were unhappy. Now you’re really mad. Any number of scenarios play out from here, but let me tell you what I did in this exact position several years ago when I was a little less wise.
I jumped out of my car to inspect the damage, and saw the guy get out of his car. He was still on his phone! What nerve! “Hey buddy, maybe you should pay attention to what’s going on in front of you instead of that fucking phone!” I wasn’t happy.
“I’m so sorry,” he replied. He looked sorry too. I could see tears in his eyes. “My sister just called. My dad had a heart attack …,” he was talking a hundred miles an hour. I could see emotion starting to strain every word. “I just jumped. My legs were twitching, and I thought the light was green. I swear, I’m so sorry.”
It was my turn to feel bad. It was almost like the tables turned. I was ready to call that guy out on being an asshole and lecture him on paying attention. I couldn’t do that once I knew what just entered this guy’s world. There wasn’t any damage to either car anyway. He needed to be somewhere fast. He wasn’t being irresponsible behind the wheel. His world was just turned upside down. I had a new view of the event; a view that felt much less enraging. The stress melted into sympathy.
You can change your emotional state by gaining a different perspective on any event. Turn fear into adventure. Turn loss into opportunity. Your entire experience of reality is constructed by interpretations in your mind. Start taking control of the picture you paint.
The Beauty of Now
Now you know your feelings are normal, you have a choice about how to feel, and you can completely reframe the entire event to a more positive view. What if you just can’t seem to shake off the last remnants of the negative emotions?
Mindfulness meditation teaches you to sit in this moment and watch your thoughts and emotions go by without judgment or attachment. A useful visualization you can use from Mindfulness is to consider the emotions as dark storm clouds in the mind. They may be here now, but they will blow away just as any real storm would. You don’t need to attach yourself to that cloud. It’s impermanent and unhelpful. None of your problems are here in this moment. Get out of the past. What’s done is done. Stop creating terrible futures. Many of them won’t happen. Leave your problems in that cloud and watch it blow away.
That should open the way to a more positive attitude.
A New Gentle You
Think back on the last week. How many rude people did you deal with? How often did you see someone upset or angry? Imagine the problems they might be facing. You know how blinded we become when we are under negative stress. The difference now is that you have tools to help someone through those dark clouds.
Start being kinder to the people around you. Leave the house with the intention of making at least one person’s day better. Say something nice to a person standing in line with you. Consider your friends for a moment. Where did they all come from? They weren’t issued at birth. At one point they were a stranger. Try engaging a stranger in a conversation. You never know how your act of kindness could change a person’s life.
Above all else, start being kind to yourself. Your internal voice can be viscous. Now you know some useful methods to turn the volume down on that voice. You know how to change the script to a positive mindset. Remember it’s always your choice.