How can one control short temper?

This is a question I received on Quora and my response to it.

Before I answer this question, I must assume that by “short temper” you mean that you are quick to react to an anger eliciting situation and do something you later determine was not appropriate to the initial situation in which you chose to get angry and ended up acting out inappropriately.

Let me elaborate on the italicized words above….

React: The goal in dealing with any situation in which you get angry is to respond not react. To react is to take action without giving much thought to what you do. To respond is to reflect on the situation and choose an effective response which both matches and deals with the situation. This is the heart of anger mastery.

That being said, you should know that anger, as a primitive threat detector, prepares you to react to a dangerous situation and eliminate it with a show of force.

Thus, while to react is normal, it is often not optimal and needs to be resisted.

Anger eliciting: Situations in which you find yourself appear to cause your anger. This is an anger myth. Your perception of your situation as a “threat” is what elicits or leads to your getting angry. You can see this visually in The Anger Master Cycle pdf which you can download, without opt-in by scrolling up to the top of this page and clicking on the link to your right.

Chose: It is important to note that while the initial reaction to a threatening situation is anger, the behavior you engage in is ALWAYS a choice. In addition, whether you stay angry or let your anger dissipate is also a choice and is based on how you evaluate your situation and the nature of the threat you both initially perceived and the perception that arises after you have evaluated what is going on.

Not Appropriate: When your short temper results in your reacting to a situation in such a way that it does not match what is going on, your behavior is seen as inappropriate. It is this lack of a match that results in your thinking you need to control your short temper.

Your belief is that if you control your short temper, you won’t get angry, you won’t do inappropriate things, and you won’t get in trouble or cause trouble which you later regret.

Sorry for the long intro but I needed to establish a context for my answer.

Controlling your anger is only the first step to mastering your anger. Many anger management courses teach that control is not only an important step regarding anger but the most important step. This is incorrect.

The basis of mastering your anger as a strategic tool (the title of my Amazon best selling book) is to validate and accept your anger, control your behavior, evaluate your situation and choose whether to hold onto and take action using the energy of your anger, or let the anger go.

Ok, let’s look at the issue of control.

Control happens when you put a pause between the initial awareness that you are angry and the choice to take action.

Adding this pause to your behavioral repertoire can be learned but it takes a bit of effort and “practice”.

The principle you will be using involves “mental time travel”. Don’t freak out here as I am only asking you to take a moment, relax in a chair, and visualize yourself at some future date being in an anger eliciting situation, beginning to get angry and pausing.

If you have difficulty “seeing” yourself doing this, you can talk yourself through it.

My boss just did xyz. I’m getting angry. I really want to go off on him. I stop myself, take a step back from him, and take a deep breath. This is my pause. I now use that pause to think about what is going on and what actions I choose to take.”

As you go through this script, do your best to “see” yourself doing these steps. Be patient and stay with it. This may be a new “skill set” for you and it may take several tries before it becomes more comfortable to you. There is no failure here. The more you attempt to visualize the future you want, the better you get at it.

By the way, this is not pseudo psychology as there is neuroscientic evidence that this mental time travel is effective.

The most important parts of this pause are 1. taking a physical step back from the situation which is eliciting your anger and 2. taking a deep breath.

Doing these two steps will give you the pause that you are trying to learn.

So, you are “training” yourself to take a step back and take a deep breath whenever you get angry.

Old reaction: Get angry ==> take action

New reaction: Get angry ==> step back and take a breath.

That is the answer to your question but I would like to go a bit further.

Once you have stepped back and taken a breath, you will need to assess what is going on so that you can choose a response.

In the interest of not making this post too long, I refer you back to the Anger Mastery Cycle so that you can see the options available to you as you seek to master your anger.

I hope this answers your question. If it does, or it does not, please leave a comment.

Yoda quotes and emotions as tools

In the Phantom Menace, Yoda says “fear leads to anger .. anger leads to hate…hate leads to suffering ( or s/t like that).

While I can’t address Yoda’s universe, using the emotions as tools model, we can unpack and gain a better understanding of what this quote means in our universe.

Fear and anger are two of 6 primary emots which helped us survive as a species when we lived on the savannah and it was “eat or be eaten”.

Fear prepares us to freeze or flee. The message of fear is that the threat we face is dangerous and our life is at stake. The reaction to fear is immediate and taken without a whole lot of thot. This is how we were hardwired and was “designed” to keep us alive just as the same process may have kept a deer pursuer by a predator alive. Fear works today the same way it did so many eons ago.

Anger prepares us for battle. The message of anger is that we are more powerful than our attacker. Our body girds for war, our attention narrows on the opponent, and “it’s on”.

We’ll get to hate shortly.

So, with all due respect to YODA, fear is separate from and would not lead to anger. Run and attack are mutually exclusive.
You could, however, decide that you’ve had enough of being fearful and become angry.
As a domestic abuse victim, with nothing  more to lose, you might decide to go “all in” and attack. Or, the community ravished by gang violence picks up hammers, tire irons and “pitchforks” and says “enough is enough”.
The important point here is that fear did not lead to, elicit, or morph to become anger. Anger was expressed because the victims changed the way they chose to view their situation. They redefined themselves as survivors and thrivers rather than as helpless victims.
The Emotions as Tools model tells us that after we react emotionally to our perception, we choose our emotional response by the thoughts we have.
When you change your thoughts, you change your feelings.
This process is what happens in therapy when cognitive restructuring is used to treat maladaptive thinking and the psychological pain that follows from it.
YODA says that anger leads to hate.
As I noted in a previous post, the message of hate is that you both detest
(and are obsessed) another person or his (or her) actions of another.  At the extreme, you may think of nothing else but that which is the object of your hate.
While hate and anger share some characteristics including the perception of threat and a desire to eliminate that threat, hate is all consuming! Anger can become chronic and all consuming.  When this happens, anger, as a primary emotion, has morphed and become a maladaptive anger.  This cancerous form of anger is not only unhealthy psychologically but can also lead to sometimes fatal physical illnesses.
So, getting back to YODA, in the case of anger and hate, he may be right but not necessarily for the reasons you might think.
Here is the progression from anger to hate.
If you are angry with someone and the perceived threat is indeed valid, your anger could become chronic or you could begin to hate the other person if you chose to avoid dealing with the because, perhaps you perceived an insurmountable power difference between you and the other person and you were concerned about your own well-being.
In this example, anger has not led to hate but has morphed into hate.
Not exactly what YODA is implying.
YODA seems to be saying that we should not get angry.
This is very similar to those who say “Anger is one letter away from danger.” and “Anger is a negative emotion.”
While it is true that anger energizes us for battle and that people, when angry, can do things they later regret, anger is ONLY (emphasis added) a tool, does not cause you to do anything, and is not to be blamed for the poor decisions you might make while angry.
The goal is to acknowledge that anger is just a tool and learn how to master it to improve your life and your relationships.
My most recent Amazon bestselling book Beyond Anger Management: Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool shows you how to do this.
You can download the first two chapters of my book without opt-in by scrolling up to the Welcome post above.
Finally, YODA notes that hate leads to suffering.  In this observation, he is absolutely correct.
When you hate, you become obsessed with the object of your hate.  This obsession can cloud your thinking and result in actions you might later come to regret.  Doing something that might get you locked up or destroy a relationship could easily be seen as causing “suffering”.
This does not mean that you eliminate the emotion of hate.
Again, hate, like all emotions, is just a tool.  When you understand and master your hate, your validate the emotion, assess the information that emotion is communicating to you, and choose how you want to respond to the emotion and the situation about which the emotion is informing you.
In the case of hate, the message of obsession and loss of objectivity could be enough to move you away from hate and back to anger and lead you to formulate an effective plan to deal with the perceived threat.
I welcome your comments.