My favorite ritual is getting coffee each morning. It’s a small indulgence that usually starts my day off on a positive beat. Today, just like every weekday morning, I went to the Starbucks next to my office. What I love about this Starbucks is that it’s a drive through. No need to get out of my car, stand in line and wait. Instead, I get to listen to my favorite songs on the radio, avoid the crowd and practice my air-drumming. I can be a little lazy like that.
This morning, however, just as I was about to enter the lane for the drive up, a car zipped through the parking lot, cut me off and jumped in the line ahead of me. Expletives flew out of my mouth like fireworks on a hot July evening. I was Pissed!
As I pulled up in line and sat behind this guy, my fury grew. Schemes for revenge and name calling fueled my anger. Under my breath, I called him as a “rude, selfish prick who needed his ass kicked.” “How dare he cut in front of me! Doesn’t he realize that he’s not the only person in the world who needs coffee? Does he not have any respect for the unwritten rules of society?” My blood began to boil; this jerk was going to set the tone for the rest of my day! Then I remembered the words of my former mentor “pause when agitated.” I took a few deep breaths and remembered the five questions he would often ask me when I was upset.
How do you control anger when someone does something to piss you off? Ask yourself these five questions:
1. “Who is the one suffering here?” It’s amazing, but the answered is always me. The guy in front of me was just great; I was the one who was unhappy. I was the one who was going to have a bad day now. I was giving him all my power. “Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional” my mentor would often say. Sure it sucks that I’m going to have to wait an extra two minutes for my coffee, but I didn’t HAVE to suffer.
2. “What’s my interpretation of what happened?” I knew that my anger was a result of the perception of my reality. I often tell clients that feelings are born out of the interpretation of the event. My initial interpretation was that this guy apparently thought he was more important, that he didn’t care about anyone but himself and that his blatant disregard for social rules was a clear sign of disrespect. Disrespect always breeds anger.
3. “What else could be going on with him?” Perhaps he honestly didn’t see me. I have made plenty of mistakes in my life. To be perfectly honest, I know that I have even cut people off accidentally. I also thought “Perhaps he has had some tragedy in his life.” I don’t know this guy; maybe he just came from the hospital, or some other life hardship is on his mind. As I tried to shift my interpretation, I noticed my anger subside, and feelings of empty began to take over. Who am I to judge?
4. “Could the be a good thing?” I started thinking about how we’re all interconnected. There certainly is the possibility that this event causes an effect in the universe. What if him cutting me off added two minutes to my commute to my office – the exact time delay necessary to prevent me from being in a terrible accident? If this were the case, I certainly would be grateful for his behavior. I started thanking the universe taking care of me and thoughts of gratitude for the prevention of the unknown. Peace began to lift my spirit.
5. “How can I transform this event?” Sharing this anecdote is one way I decided I could turn-around this story. As I thought about writing and sharing with my formula with others, I started to get a little excited. Perhaps in some small way, his cutting me off could help someone else. One more little ripple in the universe. I started feeling gratitude for this guy who cut me off. Even as I write this, my hope is that this small act creates a ripple effect and continues to help others.
It’s been several years since I have seen my old mentor, but his wisdom still affects me on days like today. I need to remember that when I get angry, my ability to affect the world in positive ways becomes limited. I no longer have the upper hand because I am in a lower emotional state. Learning to deal with people and life circumstances is essential for emotional regulation. Little things, like asking yourself questions like these is the first step in learning to manage anger, creating positive emotions and turning your day around for the better.
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