Now what I’m about to tell you is completely fictional. It’s a story I made up. But there’s a real lesson to be learned in it.
Mike was a real hothead. It didn’t take much to offend him.
You might think that this was a good character trait for him, since he was a lawyer, which is by nature a profession where you engage in conflicts.
But it wasn’t so good for Mike, particularly because he worked with Janet in his office. And Janet always found a way to push Mike’s button.
Sometimes it was just the way she looked at Mike – the little thing that she did with her eyes, which conveyed disdain. Or the way that she handed him documents – instead of actually laying the documents in his hands, he kind of held them over his hands so that he opened them up to receive it – and then simply let them fall into it.
Not really something that a lawyer could go to curt with – but still, little signs of disrespect here and there.
In meetings, she would do similar things – making remarks or nonverbal gestures which undermined his authority and made him seem less competent.
Now Mike knew that if he would talk about this, it would seem like a petty fight. In fact, her response would probably have been something along the lines of: I don’t know what you’re talking about, this is all in your head.
But the thing is – Mike tried to ignore it, but it ate away at him.
Janet was pushing his buttons, and while the flames of anger turned up the heat inside him – he kept a cool exterior.
But if you had measured his blood pressure after another gesture of disrespect, you could quantify his anger. His pulse went up too, and so did the levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) in his blood. And if you’d look close enough, you’d see the slight changes in the coloration of his skin too – especially his face got a little redder.
Now because he didn’t manage his anger, he kept carrying it around with himself.
And when Mike went to have a beer with his buddy Bob (who is, by the way, also absolutely fictitious) he kind of overreacted on a silly joke Bob made and got really upset about it. (I could tell you the details, but let’s just say that when you tell a lawyer a lawyer joke, the reaction will not always be laughter).
So when Mike gave him the whole “You think this is funny?!”-speech, Bob basically responded like this:
“Look pal, I know you well enough that it’s not the joke you’re upset about. So whatever it is in your life right now that’s making you feel so upset, you should resolve that, rather than getting upset with your friends.”
And Bob was not the only one who said that to Mike. Mike had gotten angry with several people in his personal life where there really wasn’t that much reason, and this kind of irritability wasn’t helping his friendships.
So he figured he needed to do something to remain calm instead of getting angry.
Just count to ten?
Well, sometimes slowing down and simply putting a couple of seconds between the moment where you want to impulsively react, and where you actually response can make a big difference.
But that is basically just a little short-term trick to minimize the risk of accidentally overreacting.
How about exercising?
It is true that exercise and physical activity can help you to get rid of accumulated stress in your body. But wouldn’t it be nice not to accumulate stress and anger in your body in the first place?
Focus on solutions instead of getting angry?
Yeah, sure, that would be the rational thing to do. But our brain isn’t a computer, and we aren’t really rational creatures (not even lawyers).
Or doing some kind of relaxation exercise?
Sure, relaxation exercises can help you to generally become more relaxed and calm, and also to dissolve tension faster and easier when you experience it. But it often takes months of practice before you get to experience results.
The thing that really helped Mike to overcome his anger problem was this set of anger management self hypnosis downloads…