Anger Mastery – Using Your Anger As a “Tool” Allows You to Take Control of Your Life

The Tools We Use on a Daily Basis

In your daily life, you use many different tools.  Some are task oriented tools such as a sewing machine, the TV remote, and a screwdriver.

Others are “set point” tools which make your life easier by automatically maintaining whatever “status quo” or set point you choose.

Examples of set point tools include:

  • The thermostat in your home or car that controls the temperature.
  • The spell checker on your word processor that monitors your document as you type.
  • The cruise control on your car that keeps you going on the freeway.
  • Your brain which encourages you to keep doing the same habits in the same way.

Okay, this last one may sound a bit strange but, if you have ever tried to change a habit like trying to lose weight or start an exercise program, you know how difficult it can be.  Old habits seem to take on a life of their own. This is true because habits are actually behaviors that have become automatic because they become hardwired in your brain. Habits save energy and allow us to multitask. Habit trained into first responders equip them to react quickly in crucial situations.

Emotions are hardwired “habits” designed to unconsciously react to any perceived threat and prepare your body to insure your survival.

In most cases, our tools work fine and there is no problem. The house stays warm (or cool) and comfy. Our documents come out great. We merrily move along on the road at a chosen speed and get to our destination.

The tool does what it is programmed to do. It is not able to make adjustments for unique situations. In other words, it does not think about or take into consideration “exceptions” to the norm.

This is where problems can arise. Consider your cruise control.

You set your cruise control to 69 mph (so you can get there faster and not get a ticket). It then monitors your speed and auto- corrects for any deviation.

As long as there is no traffic that is going slower than you, everything is fine. If traffic slows down, however, your car will plow into the one in front of it unless you disconnect the cruise control by stepping on the brake.

Your “tool” is happy to keep you going at 69 mph. It is doing its job.

In order to avoid an accident, however, you will need to assess the situation, decide that there is no “threat”, and override the cruise control.

Anger as a Tool.

Your anger is a tool that is designed to help you survive. Your anger is turned on when you experience a threat that you believe you can handle if you throw enough power at it. When you get angry:

  • You have perceived a threat to your life, your goals, your ego, your values.
  • Your brain has sent chemicals all through your body telling it to prepare for battle.
  • You are ready to size up the threat and take effective action to overpower it or run away from it.

(This is called the fight or flight response. When we were cave people, this response kept us alive every time it was turned on. This is because a threat was always a threat!)

You have a built-in “cruise control” that automatically turns on your anger. Your definition of threat is your set point. Just like the cruise control in your car turns on when your cruising speed is “threatened”, your anger turns on when your “normal” life is threatened.

The problem is that nearly all of the threats we face today are psychological and not survival based. Consequently, what may seem to be a threat may, in fact, only be a misunderstanding.

Unfortunately, your anger does not know the difference between a survival based and a psychological threat and you automatically go into self-protection or go-to-war mode.

If you lash out and say, or do, something you later regret, it is just like plowing into the car in front of you at high speed.

This is where the Emotions as Tools model and anger mastery come in.

Just as you should constantly monitor the traffic when your cruise control is on, you should constantly monitor your surroundings when you become aware that your anger has been turned on. Once you become aware that you are angry, you should manage your anger by lowering your arousal and master your anger by assessing the threat and deciding whether to let your anger move you forward to take action (if the threat is real) or override the anger and shut it down.

The same idea works for other human emotions such as anxiety, sadness, guilt and shame.

The point, here, is that your anger “cruise control” should always be set on automatic (as it was designed to be to insure your survival) but, before you react, you should always evaluate what is going on (when your anger is turned on) and decide what you want to do. This is called choosing a RESPONSE rather than REACTING to the situation and your anger.

Responding rather than reacting could save..

  • Your relationship (if you “explode” on your significant other)
  • Your job (if you “explode” at work)
  • Your freedom (if you physically “explode” on a cop or a citizen who presses charges)

I welcome your comments.

“What” is often a better, and more accurate, word to use than “Why”. Here is why.

How many times have you been asked by someone, or you asked another person, “Why did you do that?” The most likely answer is: many times.

Well, when you were asked, “Why did you do that?”, what was your emotional reaction?

Probably, you became defensive, or maybe a bit anxious or angry, and you attempted to offer an excuse or a reason which would justify whatever you did and, at the same time, help you avoid getting in trouble.

If you felt anxious, you interpreted the question as challenging, or judging, what you did and as implying some sort of future negative consequence if your answer to the question was not satisfactory.

If you felt anger, you interpreted the question as inappropriately challenging. or judging, what you did and as intrusive. You saw this question as a threat to your autonomy, your judgement in choosing the action you took, or your competence.

Whether you felt anxiety or anger, your reaction was to defend yourself and you offered an excuse or justification for what you did.

The tendency of the word  “why” to elicit a defensive reaction is the reason you probably want to minimize using this word in your interactions with others. Especially, your kids.

I am not saying you should never use the word. Rather, I am suggesting you think about the reason for the question you are asking (Why you are asking it.) and the information you seek in the answer you receive.

When you ask a person, “Why did you do that?”, what you really want to know is:

  • What was the basis for your decision to (do what you did)?
  • What did you hope to accomplish (by doing what you did)?
  • What other alternatives did you consider (before you did what you did)?
  • What motivated you (to do what you did)?

Notice that all of these questions begin with “what” instead of “why”. The weakness of the word “why” is that our behavior is multi-determined.  In other words, there are many underlying reasons or motivations  for the actions we take. Consequently, when you are asked “why”, you may not, in most cases, exactly know why you did what you did.

Now, in some cases, you may know why?  For example, you can say why you chose to watch the football game instead of the cooking show or why you chose the iPhone over the google phone.  And so forth.

The word “what”, in contrast, focuses your attention on the choices you made or the reasons you used prior to taking the action in question.  If you think about it, this is the information you are actually seeking.

For the reason, the next time you question someone about an action they took, start your question with the word “what” followed by the information you want instead of the word “why”.

In so doing, you are mastering emotions because you are using your awareness of the emotional process to avoid eliciting an emotional reaction which may negatively impact your relationship with the other person.

If it is you to whom the question “why” is directed, master your emotions by not reacting to the implications of the question.  Rather, answer the question as if the word “what” instead of “why” had been used.

I welcome your comments.

Mastering Emotions and the “irrational” beliefs of Albert Ellis

Albert Ellis, the founder of Rational Emotive Therapy and an early pioneer in the field of the cognitive behavioral approach to dealing with emotional issues, discussed several “irrational” ideas.  These ideas are “irrational” because they are extreme, can’t be supported in our interactions with others, and elicit emotions which can prove problematic.

This is where emotional mastery comes in.

Remember that the foundation of emotional mastery is the emotional process which involves the unconscious scanning of our surroundings for any possible “threat”, the unconscious reacting to the threat facilitated by the Amygdala and designed to insure our survival, initially validating the emotion, “managing” the emotional reaction by lowering our arousal level before we act out, and mastering the emotion by assessing both the nature of the “threat” and the thoughts we have about the threat and choosing how we want to respond to it. If the threat is genuine, we  accept and validate the emotion, plan our response to it and take action.  If the threat is not genuine, we “invalidate” the emotion, change our thought about the situation, and choose what we want to do next which might involve walking away, apologizing, ignoring the situation and so forth.

While not given as much attention as it deserves, it is important to note, and Ellis emphasizes this point, that the thoughts we have about our surroundings are often the underlying basis for the Amygdala’s analysis that a psychological threat exists.  Psychological threats underly the emotions of  anger, anxiety, guilt and shame. I say “often” because, as with the emotion of fear, the threat that is perceived is a survival threat and is not based on our thoughts. Ellis’s irrational ideas are, of course, thoughts.

Ellis listed at least 11 irrational ideas or beliefs.  I will discuss 3 of them.

  1. It is essential that one be loved or approved by virtually everyone in his community.

This is irrational because it is unattainable.  It is certainly desirable to be loved and accepted by others and we might need to examine our own behaviour if we are not getting along with others, but the rational person realizes that people’s reactions to us are often based on their perceptions and we have no control over what others do.

If you act as if others must accept you and they don’t, you most likely experience anxiety if you focus on a future threat that might occur because of this lack of love or acceptance or anger, if you believe you deserve or must be accepted, are not getting what you deserve, and will go to “war” to get what is yours.

In mastering your emotions, if you are feeling unloved or unaccepted, look for this irrational idea, examine what the other person is telling you about you, decide if their comments are more about them than you, and choose what you want to do next.

2. Unhappiness  (and, I would add, all feelings) is caused by outside circumstances and the individual has no control over them.

Ellis notes that most outside events are psychological in nature and can’t be harmful unless one allows oneself to be affected.  If you disturb yourself by noting how horrible it is that someone is unkind, annoying, etc, you create the maladaptive feelings you experience. The rational person realizes that he can change both his internal verbalizations about the event and his reactions to that event.

The idea that others (or events) cause our feelings is wide spread and is the reason I developed the Emotions as Tools Model.

The corollary of this idea which is not emphasized by Ellis but is often talked about in the literature, is that our emotions are negative and must be overpowered by us.  The emotions as tools model specifically notes that there is not such thing as a negative emotions and that all emotions are adaptive.

The idea that our emotions can overpower us is the basis of the Anger Management Approach which emphasizes lowering arousal and controlling behavior. While lowering arousal and controlling behavior are important, mastering the emotion by looking at the nature of the threat and choosing a response goes beyond managing the emotion and is consistent with Ellis’ approach.

3. It is a terrible catastrophe when things are not as one wants them to be.

This is an erroneous exaggeration.  According to Ellis, while frustration is normal, getting severely upset is illogical since there is no reason why events should be different from what they are, it is not rational to think that our happiness or satisfaction can only happen if a certain event goes our way, and if we can’t do anything about what is happening, we should just accept it,getting upset rarely

My discussion above about the emotions of anxiety and anger also apply here.

The message of the emotion of frustration is that a goal toward which we are striving, has been blocked.  Mastering this emotion involves lowering one’s arousal by taking a breath and stepping back from the goal (establishing both physical and psychological distance), validating that we are frustrated, avoiding blame, analying both the nature of the goal and the nature of the blocks, and choosing an effective response.

If you have ever tried to assemble a piece of furniture or a present such a bike on Christmas Eve, you will be able to identify with this irrational idea. I certainly have told myself “These instructions should  be more accurate!” or “These pictures are terrible and piece A does not fit into hole B!”

The emotion I feel is anger because things are not as I want them to be.

I think you get the idea.

The same phenomenon occurs when we tell ourselves, “I should have gotten that raise/promotion!”  or “My boss should not treat me that way!”

Albert Ellis calls this process “shoulding” on oneself.

As you practice mastering your emotions, take a look to see if one of these irrational ideas is at the heart of and is eliciting the emotion that you are experiencing.

I welcome your comments.

Emotions As Tools – Seven Top Conflict Resolution Tips Using Emotions As Tools

If you have not done so, already, I encourage you to download the first chapter of my book Emotions as Tools: A Self-Help Guide to Controlling Your Life not Your Feelings  by scrolling back up to the top of this page and clicking on the “EMOTIONS as TOOLS TOC_Intro_Ch 1 PDF link.  This is not an opt-in.

If you have ever found yourself facing another person who is angry with you because of something you did (or did not) do something the other person thought was important, you have experienced conflict.

When this happened did your conflict resolution strategies include using your emotions as tools to gain valuable strategic information?

If not, the 7 step process below will teach you how to use the information provided by emotions to resolve conflict between you and someone else or between two other people.

So that we are all on the same page, here are some basic working definitions:

Difference of Opinion: A misunderstanding between two people that may involve some mild emotions and can be usually be dealt with through discussion, clarification, and compromise.

Conflict: A strong disagreement between two parties that involves some action that was taken or some action that was not taken. Conflict is always accompanied by strong emotions. With human beings, conflict is almost impossible to totally avoid.

Emotions as Tools model:

1. States that our emotions are created by our thoughts and how we perceive the environment

2. Every emotion has an underlying message which reflects the perception that created it.

3. By reading the emotion and understanding the underlying message, we can address how a person perceives his or her situation and help them change that perception.

4. When the perception changes, the emotion changes.

The three steps of conflict resolution:

1. Finding out what the presenting issue is by asking questions and actively listening to the answers.

2. Using the information provided by reading emotions to determine the real underlying issue.

3. Taking the necessary time to address the underlying issues and come to an agreement about how to best deal with the presenting issue so that both parties are satisfied (win/win) or at least agree to live with what is agreed upon (compromise).

The 7 step process:

Step 1: View all disagreements as a difference of opinion NOT as a conflict.

With a difference of opinion, the presenting issue is what it is. Two people have differing opinions. Depending on the situation, the emotions that go along with misunderstandings or differences of opinion are surprised, confused, possibly frustrated, or maybe even amused. These tend to be milder emotions that usually do not get in the way of further discussion.

Differences of opinion can escalate into conflict if not resolved.

Step 2: Recognize a “conflict” by identifying the emotions (specifically anger) that are present.

If you notice that you or another person is getting angry about an issue, it is likely that a conflict has developed.

This is why.

The message of anger is that the angry person both feels threatened and believes that if he demonstrates his power through his anger, he can eliminate the threat.

When we are in threat prevention mode, we are not in problem solving mode.

The specific threat may be to his (or her) ego, to some goal, or to an ideal such as fairness. When you see anger, it means that, in addition to the presenting issue such as when a teenager gets angry when her parent sets rules for dating, there is an underlying issue of perceived threat which must be addressed first for successful conflict resolution to occur.

The presence of a perceived threat is what leads to a conflict.

Note: A future article will address the indirect anger shown by women in our society and the tendency of men to use anger as a substitute for hurt. You can, for now, assume that anger in a conflict reflects some underlying threat. You will not lose with this strategy.

Step 3: Keep your own head level.

Adopt a conflict resolution mind set.

This includes:

-Acknowledging and understanding your own perception of threat if you are angry.

-Having mutual respect for everyone and their position.

-Remaining non-judgemental.

-Being willing to actively listen to the other party and hear their story

-Expressing your own story without accusing the other party.

-Remaining open to possible solutions other than your own.

Step 4: Address the underlying issue of perceived threat.

In most cases, when anger is present, one (or both) party perceives a threat. Examples include:

(i) Threat to Autonomy

Strategy: Reaffirm the maturity and independence of the other person.

(ii) Threat to a sense of Fairness

Strategy: Reaffirm that any decision made will only be reached after all sides have been heard and an agreement reached that is agreeable to both.

Note: If the issue is between a parent and a child, a different approach may be needed

(iii) Threat of Loss

Strategy: Acknowledge their sense of loss and reaffirm that each loss also may involve a gain.

An example is when you give up some autonomy to do your own thing and gain cooperation and harmony in an office setting.

Step 5: Address the presenting issue.

Once the threat is addressed, the conflict becomes a difference of opinion and the presenting issue can be addressed.

Step 6: Resolve the conflict

Once the issue is addressed, a win/win solution or a compromise can be agreed upon. Or, you can agree to disagree. Always seek a win/win solution first.

Step 7: Finalize the agreement

State the agreement or write it down with information about who will do what by when and any consequences that will happen if “WHAT” and “WHEN” are not done by “WHO”.

As establishing that you understand the other person (empathy) can be very important in resolving conflict, I encourage you to scroll down this site and revisit my earlier posts on empathy.

I welcome your comments.

 

 

You Cannot NOT Communicate

The title of this blog post may look like I added an extra word.

I assure you, (no pun intended) that I did not..

The point I am making, and that most people miss when they interact with others, is that we are always communicating something whether we intend to or not.

Most people believe that communication is a fairly simple process. This is an unfortunate myth.

The process of communication, while I admittedly am simplifying the process, can be illustrated with two examples.

Example #1: Think back to the days of the telegraph.  If you wanted to send a message, you had to write out the message, the telegraph operator had to convert it to Morse Code, the wires had to be in place between you and the place to which you were sending the message, the receiving  operator had to get the signal, decode the message, and write it down so that your target person could receive your message.

The first example illustrates the verbal communication process.  Most of us can easily encode an idea into words, deliver the words, and expect the receiver to accurately decode the message and understand what we mean and intended to say.  And, in most cases, when it is factual information we are communicating, this process works.

There are some underlying assumptions here.

  • Both of the participants speak the same language and can understand the words being used.  Words can be thought of as one “filter” through which ideas are processed. (One way to understand the idea of a filter is to think about what happens when you take a black and white picture with your camera or smart phone. The filter takes out the color.) Words can have a multitude of meanings and, therefore, can be thought of as a filter in that you choose the words you eventually use based on what you want to convey.
  • The message is clear, does not involve emotional issues in either party, and is not easily misinterpreted. (Emotions are another “filter” through which ideas are processed.)
  • Both participants are paying attention to each other, are not distracted by “noise” in the environment (think about having a conversation in a loud lounge), and are “actively” listening with the goal of receiving and understanding the message.  They are not  “passively” listening while engaged in some other activity such as texting or planning tomorrow’s schedule.

If we are dealing with issues involving emotions (or complex issues), the process becomes more complicated.

Example #2: Think about the last time you sent a text or an email thinking that you were being very clear only to have the person to whom you sent this electronic message get upset because they misinterpreted the message they received.

The second example illustrates a situation in which the message has several different “layers” but the only layer of information that is “available” is what is “written” down.

There are several possible complications here:

  • The message may contain implied emotional overtones. For example, you are upset with the person and have not directly expressed your feeling.
  • You may have directly expressed your feelings but the meaning of the emotional words you have used were misinterpreted when “decoded” by the recipient of the text.
  • You tried to use humor in your text or an emoji.
  • And so forth.

By the way, the above process is why we are frequently advised, and warn our kids, to be very careful about what they send in an email or a text.

There is a quote from the Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) literature that says: “The meaning of a communication (to the receiver) is the response that you (the sender) get regardless of what you intended to say.”

The receiver’s (upset) response clearly suggests that he (or she) viewed the message as “threatening”. This is the “real” meaning of the message to him.

If the communication process is to be successful, you will need to determine where the “disconnect” is. Perhaps, the misunderstanding occurred because the message contained implied emotional overtones that were included in the message (either intentionally or unintentionally) or the receiver read emotional overtones into the message that were not there.

When you are involved in a face to face conversation, there are additional complications that can take place because of the nature of non-verbal signals.

  • Non-verbal signals comprise a significant (perhaps, major) portion of the communication process and involve your tone of voice, the expression on your face, the way you are standing and so forth.
  • An important part of the emotional process is the constant scanning of our surroundings that our senses engage in, our Amygdala monitors, and our bodies unconsciously react to if there is a threat.
  • Our primitive brain is programmed to “read” non-verbal signals because they are often a more accurate (though not always so) indicator of possible threat. This is because humans are not very good at modifying their non-verbal signals (unless they are trained to do so).

Consequently, you are always communicating non-verbally and your listener is always tuned into your non-verbals.  Hence, the title of this blog: You cannot NOT communicate.

An example of this potential conflict is  the saying “Your actions speak so loudly, I can’t hear what you are saying.”

Communication problems can arise for at least two reasons:

  1. The meaning of non-verbal signals is not always clear and can easily be misunderstood.
  2. The non-verbal signals you are communicating with your tone of voice or body language are not consistent with the verbal message.

You master your emotions (and the emotions of others) when you are aware of and utilize the nature of non-verbal (and verbal) signals.

  • In your own communications, take extra care to insure that the message you are conveying non-verbally is consistent with the words you are using.
  • Be aware of the non-verbal signals your receiver sends to you, the emotions indicated by those signals, and the message those emotions tell you about how he or she has interpreted your communication. Using this information, you can seek clarification if what you see in their response is different from what you expected and you can clear up any misunderstanding.

I hope this information is helpful and I welcome your comments.

 

The emotional meaning of a word is in the person NOT the word.

Have you ever said (or did) something only to have the person with whom you are interacting, react in a way that totally surprised you?

Of course you have.  We all have. But you may not know why this occurred.

There is a quote from the NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) literature that says: “The meaning of a communication is the response that you get regardless of what you intended to (say/do)”.

Another way to put this is that the emotional meaning of a word is in the person not in the word.

Let me explain.

While it seems to be a simple process, and sometimes it is, communicating with another person can be very complicated.

Each interaction involves you (the sender) and the other person (the receiver).  Your job as the sender is to pick the best words to convey what you want to say.  This is called  encoding. The job of the receiver is to listen to you and get the meaning you are trying to send. This is called decoding.

Several different processes can complicated the encoding and decoding of words. These processes serve as obstacles to successful communication.

  1. Do each of you have a sufficient vocabulary to pick the best word?
  2. Are both of you engaged in the communication process such that you are focused on each other, avoiding external distractions, and concentrating on the message?
  3. Are both of you paying attention to insure that your own emotional issues do not interfere with the message being communicated?

While there are more issues that can interrupt communication, these three give you an idea of the potential obstacles that exist to successful communication.

Emotions become relevant in obstacle #2 and #3.

In every case, you respond to another person based on how you interpret what they are saying (or doing).  Your interpretation of another person’s words depends on your emotional state.  This is obstacle #3. If you are “primed” for anger because you are thinking of a previous incident in which you were mistreated or you have a history of incidents with the other person, the filter through which you will perceive what they say will be one of self-defense and you will more easily get angry.

If you have had a good day or you have a positive or neutral history with the other person, you are more likely to give them the “benefit of the doubt” and possibly reserve judgment on any questionable communication.

A similar process goes on for other feelings.

The same is true for another person whose reaction to you suggests that they have misperceived what you said because their reaction does not match the words and emotional tone you were trying to communicate.

Let me give you an example:

You go into your office to start your workday and you say to one of your co-workers: “How are you?”

A. If your co-worker says “Great, how are you?” then you have had a successful interaction.  In most cases when we say “How are you?”, the meaning of the words are simply “I acknowledge you.”  Saying “Hello”, “How is it going?” or “Good morning.” all mean the same in this context.

B. But, suppose, your co-worker says: “Wow, I am really glad you asked. I had an argument with my spouse, the dog had an accident on the rug, and I had trouble starting my car this morning.  Oh, and did I mention…..”  In this case, he (or she) interpreted your question as meaning ” I really want to know about your life.  Give me all the details.”

C. Or, if your co-worker says: “Why do you ask?” or “What’s it to you?”  In this case, your co-worker has interpreted your question as unnecessary prying or intrusive.

With examples B and C above, it is not what you said but how the other person misinterpreted what you said that led to the unexpected response. The other person put their own spin or interpretation on your words and reacted “as if” you meant to say what he “heard” you say.

Or, to put in another way, the meaning of a word  is in the person or the meaning of a communication (to another person) is the response you get (from that person).

Using the Emotions as Tools Model, you can infer how a person perceives you based on the emotional tone of their response to you and the message of that emotion.

If they respond in an angry manner, then you know that they have perceived you, or what you said (did) as a threat.  You know this because the message of anger is that a threat has been perceived that the angry person believes they can eliminate.

If the response you get suggests that the other person is anxious or cautious with you, then you can assume that they perceive you as a possible threat that might hurt them. This is the message of anxiety.

With this knowledge, you can ask them for clarification.

You can say: “I am surprised by how you responded to what I said.  What did you hear me say?”

Be sure not to label what they said, take offense, or blame. Your initial goal is clarify what is going on with them.  It is possible that you did not use the right words or that you had an emotional overtone in your voice. Or, maybe, the misinterpretation is totally on them.  It doesn’t matter at this point as, for now, your goal is clarification.

There is always time later on to seek additional clarification, if needed, apologize for any misunderstanding or respond to their emotion, if appropriate, or rephrase what you said.

I welcome your comments.

Anger: A Review

Anger is a powerful emotion.   And, it is highly misunderstood.

Some basic concepts about emotions…

The words emotion and feeling mean the same thing.

  • Anger is an emotion and all human emotions are tools which you can use to improve and gain control over your life.
  • We are born with primary emotions including mad (anger), sad, glad (happy), fear, disgust, surprise and interest. These feelings are tools that our ancestors used to survive.
  • Just like the tools in your kitchen (the stove, specific pots, the thermometer, and the microwave), the tools in your office (the computer, the telephone, and the printer), and the tools in your garage (your car, the hammer, and the washer and dryer), each emotional tool has a specific purpose and serves you best when it is appropriately used.
  • Your eyes, nose and skin are sensors which, like radar, scan your environment. Your emotions inform you about what your senses have picked up. This is the message of your emotion. Your feelings also prepare you to take action and give you the opportunity to choose whether you want to do something about the situation facing you or ignore it.

The truth about emotions…

  • Your emotions are your first line of defense against threat.
  • Your senses first register a possible threat.

For example, you are on a hike in the woods and you see a snake on the path in front of you. The information from your eyes is picked up by a part of your brain called the amygdala which registers the threat and causes you to freeze in your tracks. This is done without any thought on your part as your survival may be at stake. The job of your brain is to keep you alive.

You want this reaction to happen automatically if your life is really on the line.

  • You REACT to your primary emotions the same way your ancestor, Mr. Caveman, reacted to his basic emotions.

When threatened by a predator (animal or human), here is what happened to Mr. Caveman…

  1. He got angry
  2. He made menacing facial and verbal expressions.
  3. Adrenalin rushed through his body.
  4. He was ready to fight for his survival.

When you get angry, the same process occurs, and you are ready to fight for your survival.

The problem is that, while the threat to Mr. Caveman was always real and his survival was at stake, with most modern threats your survival is rarely at risk.

You create the emotion you feel.

A short time after the amygdala receives its information from the eyes, the thinking part of your brain, the cerebral cortex, picks up the information and gives you the opportunity to evaluate how real the threat is. If you decide that the threat is real, the emotion you feel will reflect the nature of the threat you have decided exists. If there is no threat, there is no emotion. When you realize that the snake is really a tree branch, you calm down.

Your emotions are the result of the thoughts you have about your situation. You create your thoughts and the feelings follow

Because your feelings come from your thoughts about your situation, reading your feelings tells you how you perceive what is happening to you.

For example: Your anger tells you that you see a threat that you can eliminate if you throw enough power at it. The threat may be to your safety, your body, your values, your finances, your goals, or your ego. Your anger tells you that you need to evaluate the true nature of the threat.

The actions you take are based on this evaluation and are your response to the situation. Acting without this evaluation is called a reaction and will often get you in trouble.

A basic misconception about anger..

  • People or situations make you angry.

Fact: You make you angry.

I know this is a tough one for most of us to accept so we can take a closer look and use a traffic jam as an example.

If you are in a hurry to get somewhere, you will get upset or even angry at the traffic. If, however, you have all the time in the world, your favorite artist is on the radio and your car and the air conditioning are both working great, you will tend to sit back and let the moment pass. The same situation, the traffic, results in two completely different emotional responses.

If the traffic jam made you angry, it would affect everyone the same way.

The sun makes us hot. It affects everyone the same way and what we think about it is irrelevant.

The truth about anger..

  • The message of anger is that you believe you are facing a threat that you can eliminate if throw enough power at it.
  • When angry, your body prepares you to either fight off the threat or run away from it.
  • Anger causes you to focus your attention and your energy on the perceived threat. Your thinking is directed to how you can deal with the threat you see.
  • Being prepared in this way to deal with the threat is very healthy if the threat is real

Real threats involve significant risk to your life, your goals, your core values, your finances, your property, or your family.

It is the anger that gets blamed for the aggression that angry people engage in. In truth, it is the misjudgement about the nature of the threat that leads these people to REACT with aggression when the actual level of risk calls for some other, less offensive, RESPONSE.

  • Managing your anger involves CONTROL and is only a first step.
  • Mastering anger goes anger management and involves assessing the nature of the threat, choosing an adaptive response,  and focusing the energy of the anger to eliminate the threat.

Three anger mastery  techniques you can use today as soon as you notice you are getting angry…

I. Take a deep breath before you take any other action.

What does this do?

Taking a deep breath does two important things:

  • First of all, it has a calming effect on you.
  • Secondly, it gives you an extra second or two for your cortex to kick in so you can evaluate the nature of the threat.

II. Evaluate the nature of the threat.

What does this do?

Evaluating the nature of the threat allows you to choose a response that fits the situation rather than react to your first impression which may not be correct if there really is no threat.

Take a moment to ask yourself these questions:

  1. What is at risk?
  2. How real is the threat?

For example:

  • Will the traffic jam I am stuck in kill me, my goals, or my core values?
  • While I do not want to stay at work, what are the life or death consequences at stake when my boss tells me that I have to work overtime?

III. CHOOSE the RESPONSE that best fits the nature of the threat.

If the risk is to your life, your core values, or your primary goals, you have only one choice

  • Use all the power provided by your anger that you need to overcome the threat.

Note: You can always choose what means you will use to eliminate the threat.

If the threat is not significant, you have three choices:

  • Choose an action that deals with the situation as it is.
  • Choose to walk away from the situation.
  • Choose to let it pass by ignoring it.

Choosing your response based on your evaluation is using your anger as a tool to interact with your environment. This is mastering your anger.

I welcome your comments.

Hesitate to ask for what you want? Why and what you can do.

Have you ever wanted to ask someone for something but hesitated?

Examples include:

  • Asking someone out on a date
  • Asking someone to help you on a project
  • Asking a co-worker for some needed information or for a report
  • Asking a boss for a raise

We all have.  But, have you ever thought about why you hesitated?

While there could be many reasons, concerns, justifications, or ways in which you rationalized your not taking action, the underlying barriers to your not asking can be boiled down to two issues.

Before I lay these barriers out to you, however, let me give you some insight into the process of rationalization.  Rationalizing is a psychological defense mechanism which allows us to justify whatever action we take with “reasons” which, while we may accept them as sufficient to back up what we want to do, might not carry much weight or significance to a third, unbiased, observer.

Why is this? Well, while the correct spelling of the word is R-A-T-I-O-N-A-L-I-Z-E, the psychological spelling, or underlying process is R-A-T-I-O-N-A-L    L-I-E-S.

When you rationalize, or justify, an action you are taking, or something you are not doing, you may be manufacturing excuses or “lies” which appear to support the position you are taking.

Now, I am not saying that you are intentionally telling an untruth (a “real” lie), although you could be.  I am saying that the reasons you are giving yourself, when seriously analyzed, probably won’t hold up to examination.  Hence. I am calling them “lies”.

So, what are the two underlying barriers which result in your hesitation to ask for what you want and how do you get around them?

The first barrier to your asking for what you want is emotional.

The anxiety that you are feeling and experiencing as distress will stop you in your tracks.  Remember that anxiety is a future based emotion, the message of which is: There MAY be a threat out there and it MAY  “kill” me.  The word kill is in quotes because with anxiety, we aren’t talking about physical death but some outcome which we believe could be “disastrous”, unwelcome, or significantly damaging in some way.

The question that elicits anxiety as distress is: What if  A, B, and/or C happens? where “A”, “B”, and “C” are worst case scenarios. This is called “catastrophising”.  Inaction happens when we accept A, B, and/or C and the answer to this question as inevitable  and back-off to avoid the unwanted outcome.

The second underlying barrier to your not asking for what you want has to do with your self-image and is experienced as a sense of your own unworthiness.  You do not believe that you are either justified in asking for what you want or that you are worthy enough to have your request granted.

There are 4 questions which, when asked and answered by you, will enable you to overcome these barriers.

  1. What is the worst that can happen if I do ask for what I want?
  2.  If the worst happens, can I survive it?
  3.  How will I benefit if the outcome I want happens?
  4. Is the request I am making (or question I am asking) a valid, reasonable (given the situation), and appropriate (again, given the situation) request to make?

Questions 1 and 2 are designed to address the anxiety.  If you can identify the worst case scenario that underlies your anxiety and you can survive (however you define this word) the disaster you are envisioning, then you no longer need to be bullied by your anxiety. You may still feel some anxiety but it will not be overwhelming.

In the case of requesting something from someone, the unwanted “disaster” usually involves some form of rejection, either of you, personally, or of the issue you are raising.

And, the answer to the survival question should, in nearly all cases, be “yes”.

Following these questions, you can use your anxiety as a tool to motivate you to get the facts you need, do whatever preparation you might have to do, and think through your request, prior to approaching the person and making your request.

This is using anxiety as “eustress”.

Question 3 turns anxiety into its mirror emotion…  anticipation.  Anticipation is also a future oriented emotion and elicits the same energy as anxiety. Anticipation, however, looks ahead and envisions a desirable outcome. Since you want the outcome to occur, you are more motivated to make the request and ask for what you want.

Question 4 indirectly addresses the question of worthiness.  If the request you are making is valid, reasonable, and appropriate, then the request is its own justification for being asked.  You, as the “requester” become worthy by implication because the request is worthy.

Yes, I know that the question of self-worth is far more complicated than this, can impact your life in a multitude of ways, and could require professional help if it becomes a clinical issue but, in the case of hesitation as we are discussing, this usually is not what is taking place.

So, to wrap up, Questions 1 and 2 directly address the distress of the anxiety which may be a barrier to your asking for what you want and uses anxiety as a tool (eustress) to motivate you to prepare for action.

Question 3 turns anxiety into anticipation so you are motivated to take the action you have prepared yourself for.

Question 4 indirectly addresses the question of worthiness AND (as a bonus) can give you additional motivation to ask for what you want.

Thanks for reading and I welcome your comments.

 

 

Anger Mastery: Respond, do not react when using your emotions as tools

Think about the last time you got angry.

Maybe, you were driving and another driver cut in front of you.

If you immediately got angry, gave him, or her, the one-finger salute, or used language you would not want your five year old to repeat, it is safe to say that you reacted to the situation.

The emotions as tools model teaches you to use your emotions to gain control over your life. In other words, your emotions are tools that inform you about your world and help you to become more effective in the actions
you choose to take.

The critical word here is “choose”.

When you choose what you want to do, you respond to what is happening.

There is personal power in responding.

When you act without thinking, you are reacting.

Reacting often leads to regret for having done something you later wish you had avoided.

As tools, each emotion communicates a message about how you perceive the situation you are in.

The message of anger, according to the emotions as tools model, is that you have perceived a threat that you believe you can remove, defeat, or eliminate by throwing enough energy at it to overpower it. You viewed the actions of the other driver as a threat and you IMMEDIATELY threw your energy into overpowering the threat. In other words, you reacted.

So, what was the threat you perceived? Was it to your safety, your sense of driving etiquette, your ego?

Even if there was a genuine threat, how much did the action(s) you took help to improve the situation?

A second example..

I was at the airport recently and there were long lines at the counter. I observed a man who was loudly complaining and becoming increasingly more angry every time he looked up at the screen announcing the flight information. When it was his turn, he focused all of his energy on the clerk. She apologized to him for his inconvenience and said that
there was nothing she could do about his cancelled flight.

This was an emotional reaction that reflected the degree of energy behind the anger but was totally ineffective in resolving the “threat” to his travel plans.

A few minutes later, this same clerk was approached by a passenger who effectively utilized her anger and responded to the situation. She acknowledged that the situation was not the clerk’s fault, stated her need to get home as soon as possible, and noted that she would appreciate anything the clerk could do. The clerk responded in kind by making
a few phone calls and securing a flight out of the airport.

This passenger responded to her anger and chose a course of action that was appropriate to the situation.

Responding-Not Reacting

Reacting
* is acting impulsively
* does not involve any reflection upon or thinking about your situation
* is usually ineffective in eliminating the threat
* typically results in your doing something you later regret or need to correct (as in offer an apology)
* may often make the situation worse

Responding
* is acting effectively
* always involves thinking about your situation
* requires weighing your options
* allows you to choose the best action to take
* results in the threat being eliminated or at least weakened

The three important functions anger, as an emotional tool, performs for you:
1. Anger informs you that you face a threat.
2. Anger alerts you to the need to think about what action you can take to eliminate the threat.
3. Anger gives you an opportunity to choose the best response to handle the threat.

When you respond to your anger, you empower yourself and you effectively utilize your emotions.

I welcome your comments.

The Atomic Power of Words: Learn to Harness It Part 2

In my last post, I introduced you to the atomic power of words to elicit feelings.  Feelings, in turn lead to behavior.  It is the connection between words feelings and actions which give words their power.

The downside of this relationship between words and actions is that the words we use can be misunderstood by others. Misunderstandings can elicit behavior we may not want.  Consequently, it is critical that we use words that are less likely to be misunderstood and, therefore, are more likely to generate the responses (behavior) we would like.

In this post, I want to address what I call “stop” words and replacing them with “go” words.

Stop words are words which when used tend to leave others feeling deflated, unmotivated and stuck. The same end result occurs when we use these words and direct them toward ourselves.

Go words are motivating.

It is important to note that the specific word you use is less important than how that word is interpreted on a feeling level.

Specific stop words are: “can’t” as in “I can’t…”, “problem” as in “We’ve got a problem.”, “should” as in “You (or I) should …” and so forth.

Let’s take the word “can’t”.  What we mean when we say we “can’t do something” is usually that we may see obstacles in the way of our accomplishing the task.  While there may be obstacles, the issue with the word “can’t” is that your brain may interpret the word as “impossible”.  If you say “I can’t do this.”, what you may feel is that it is impossible for you to do it.  If you truly were facing an impossible task that you felt compelled to overcome, you might get depressed, feel overwhelmed, stop trying, lose motivation and so forth.  When you tell yourself you “can’t” do something, you react as if the task facing you is, indeed impossible.

Another way around the word “can’t” which both acknowledges the difficulties the event you are facing represents and elicits a feeling of motivation is to say, “This situation is admittedly difficult but it is doable.”  “Doable” is a go word. Emotionally, your brain is satisfied that the situation has been correctly labelled as requiring great effort and you remain motivated because you believe you have the ability to persevere and overcome.

If you tell someone else they “can’t” do something or you are told that “you can’t do something”, the reaction you may get is defiance or resistance.  In this case, the word “can’t” is perceived as an unfair imposition of power and might elicit the emotion of anger.  The message of anger is that a threat is perceived that can be overpowered.  In trying to deal with a threat you view as “unfair”, you, or someone else such as your kid, may be motivated to rebel, look for ways to get around the imposition and so forth.

In both cases, the word “can’t” is a stop word because it impedes forward progress and weakens motivation.

I am not saying you can never use the word “can’t”.

I am saying that if you do use it, explain what you mean by looking at the obstacles that exist or the issues which prohibit another from taking a specific action.  You might say, “You can’t do this because…”

You get a similar reaction when you use the stop word “should” as in “I should go on a diet.” or “You should be more….”.  The initial reaction is resistance as in “Why?”, “Who is gonna make me?”, or “Who says.”  Think about your own reaction when someone like your doctor or your spouse tells you that you “should” do something like lose weight, stop smoking or exercise more you tell yourself that you should do something like your New Year’s Resolutions.

Another stop word is “problem” as in “We have a problem.”

I don’t know if you remember the movie Apollo 13 but it is a true story about an American crew whose space ship explodes.  While the crew is alright, their ship is severely disabled and there is a real possibility that they might not be able to get back to earth.  The captain of the mission, played by Tom Hanks, radios the command center back on earth and says,
“Houston, we have a problem.” In this case, the problem was a life threatening, potential disaster with no immediately obvious solution. The word “problem” implied potential catastrophe.

It is the emotional connotation of catastrophe that makes the word “problem” a  potential stop word.  Someone tells you that they have a “problem” or you tell yourself you “have a problem” and the emotional reaction is anxiety, disbelief, or, possibly, inadequacy.  The message of anxiety is that the situation you are facing might be a threat that might “kill” you.  The emotional behavior elicited by anxiety is stress or withdrawal.

Instead of labeling an event as a “problem”, you can call it a challenge or even a very difficult challenge. The word “challenge” is a go word. When facing a challenge, the emotion elicited might be excitement or enthusiasm, or motivated.  The ensuing behavior is solution focused activity designed to meet and beat the challenge.

When you are aware of the strong emotional impact that words can have on the behavior of others and on your own actions, you can begin to master the atomic power of words to motivate yourself and others. Stop words can result in inhibition, withdrawal, or resistance. You might want to avoid using stop words, replace them with go words or, when you do use them, provide a context in which the word you use makes sense and doesn’t elicit emotions and reactions you do not want.

I welcome your comments