“Shoulds” are like a bad book cover. We might avoid “content” that could benefit us.

I have written two Amazon bestselling books.  While the cover of my first book is adequate, I went out of my way with my second cover because I learned that people DO judge a book by its cover.

The aphorism “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” is true.

The problem is that we all judge books, people, restaurants etc by their “covers”. And, sometimes, we miss out.

Let me give you one example.

Joshua Bell is a world class violin player.  People pay good money to hear him perform in concert halls all over the world.  A few years ago, in an experiment, Mr. Bell went to a NY subway station, took out his million dollar Stradivarius violin and played several very difficult violin compositions.  For the most part, he was ignored.  Folks did say that he was somewhat better than the average solicitor of pocket change but few recognized the quality of the performance which they were being given. The “cover” or setting in which Mr. Bell was playing clearly impacted how his audience responded to him.  His music was exceptional.  His reception was not.

Not all street musicians are Joshua Bell.  Sometimes, they are just street musicians trying to make a buck.  And, that’s okay.

“Shoulds” are like book covers, or first impressions.  They can be misleading and result in our not responding to an underlying important piece of information.

What are the “shoulds”?

A “should” is any statement or belief that you say to yourself (or, for that matter, that someone else says to you) that goes something like this: ” I should do XYZ.”, “I need to do XYZ.” or “You should (or should not) do XYZ”.

Examples include: You should have known what I meant., How dare you (question me, get angry)., I need to go on a diet. , I must be a better husband (parent, brother, father, employee)., I should exercise more., and so forth.

Other words that might be substituted for “should” include “have to”, “must”, “need to”, etc.

By the way, “How dare you” implies that you should not have done whatever it is that you dared to do.

“Shoulds” are problematic for several reasons:

  1. they imply an absolute which does not necessarily exist.
  2. they tend to elicit an oppositional reaction
  3. they do not address the issue that needs attention


Think about it for a minute.

When you tell yourself, or someone tells you, that you “should” do XYZ, the statement implies:

  • You really have no options other than XYZ
  • The behavior being addressed is the only correct, acceptable, or even viable action that makes any sense
  • You are wrong, misguided, exercising poor judgement or  crazy to have done or to consider doing (or not doing) XYZ.

Oppositional Reaction

When someone tells you that you should do XYZ, your first reaction (before you take the time to think about it) is to resist.

This is true in part because the should is perceived as a command and most of us do not like to be told what to do. A “should” tends to elicit comments such as: “No, I don’t”, or “Who gave you the right to make demands on me?” or “Try and make me.”

OK, I admit that the above comments seem somewhat immature but I am trying to capture the intent of the resistance to a “should”.  The exact words used to express this resistance are less important.

The critical issue here is that this resistance to a “should” happens whether the “should” is directed at you by someone else or is your own assertion directed at yourself.

How many times have you told yourself that you should do XYZ (let’s stipulate that XYZ is indeed something that is in your best interest to pursue like exercise or losing weight or reconciling with an estranged friend) and then resisted, procrastinated, avoided or made excuses for not doing XYZ?

Probably, lots of times.  I know I have.

Sometimes XYZ is something that we would benefit from.  This leads us to the third, and most important reason that “shoulds” can be insidious.

Avoiding the Issue

This is the most important reason for learning how to deal with “shoulds” because it may result in your not responding to an important situation which, if recognized, would be most beneficial to you.

A “should” implies that a critical issue such as weight, health (medical/dental), exercise, doing an important task which you’ve been avoiding, has been recognized, clearly summarized, is beyond question, and will be both prioritzed and completed.

In other words, the “should” is wrongly interpreted as a “marching order” that  you are compelled to carry out.  “Should” implies “Done”.

Except it doesn’t!

The real issue that needs to be addressed is the compulsive reason underlying your actions to avoid XYZ.  If XYZ is so important, and we are assuming it is, how do you justify not doing it?

Not all “shoulds” will lead us to actions that, when taken, prove to be beneficial.

Sometimes, “shoulds” are just unreasonable demands others direct toward us or unreasonable demands we make of ourselves due to a desire to fit in or meet some social or personal expectation.

The goal is to be able to tell the difference. We want to recognize our “Joshua Bells”.

The Antidote to “Shoulds”: Skip the demand and focus on the relevance of the task.

  • Ask yourself a question.

Ask yourself “Why is it in my best interest to do XYZ?”

This may sound silly but your brain is a question answering machine.  It will give you a bunch of reasons why XYZ is good for you.  By the way, if you’ve ever said to yourself, “How could I be so stupid (or similar)?”, you might want to reconsider your words. Do you really want your brain to inform you about how you are stupid?  I don’t think so.

  • Change your approach.

Toward you...

Instead of telling yourself you “should” do XYZ, remind yourself that doing XYZ will benefit you, is important to you, will pay dividends etc.

Instead of “I should exercise.” say “I choose to exercise.”

Toward someone else…

In response to someone else telling you that you should do XYZ, ask them “On what are you basing your comment that I should do XYZ?”  Maybe, you will learn something about XYZ that you didn’t know before and choose to do it.

In summary:

I can just about guarantee that there will be “shoulds” in your life going forward, both from others to you and from you to yourself.

You can’t avoid them.  And, you don’t have to.

You master your emotions as tools by validating them and assessing their message, and choosing your response.

It is the same with “shoulds”.  Accept them, question their message (the value to you of XYZ and choose your response.

I welcome  your comments.



Emotions and Logic…Mutually Exclusive or Mutually Reinforcing? Part 2: Mutually Inclusive So More Emotions

In this post, I am suggesting that you view your emotions and logic as mutually reinforcing and use them both to help you make better decisions and engage in behavior that is beneficial to you and those close to you.

An explanatory note:

I am not saying that these suggestions would have stopped a school shooter or the Las Vegas shooter as the action of these (and other folks in the news) were well planned and executed actions.  However, teaching cops and boyfriends/spouses and co-workers to master their emotions, could very possibly result in more appropriate behavior. And eliminate some of the negative myths that people use to judge their emotions.

Back to the post…

When you get into your car, you are aware that you need to manage the power of the car, be aware of your surroundings and other drivers, and compensate for outside factors such as weather, visibility, and momentum.  If you fail to consider these factors, you and your car may be “out of control”.

One example involves excessive speed (given your physical status, traffic, the road surface or the weather).  If you are going too fast, when you step on the brake, your car may be out of control and slam into the car in front of you.

  • Maybe, you are tired or impaired and you misjudge the required stopping distance.
  • Maybe, you are driving during the winter and fail to consider various road conditions. You may lose contact with the road (friction), your car becomes out of control and you slip and slide.
  •  Maybe, fog is restricting your vision more than you believe and you don’t see the car in front of you.

In all these cases, the information is available to you that, if you paid attention to, and heeded, the message this information (about yourself, driving conditions, etc) was providing, you would be both prepared and motivated to take corrective action which could have helped you avoid the accident.  Even in a multi-car pile up, some cars were able to avoid a collision.

While the analogy is not perfect, think of the car as an emotion.  It is very powerful and can be used very positively to speed you to the hospital for emergency care, very negatively as a weapon, or neutrally to drive you to the grocery store.

The feedback you get from your surroundings is information available to you as you decide how to manage and take advantage of the power in your car. This information is similar to the message of an emotion that you are experiencing.

When my wife was pregnant with our first child, she went into labor, I got anxious, and we rushed to the hospital in our car. While I was speeding, I was not reckless.  When I ran through a red light after briefly stopping, a cop pulled me over.  I stopped the car and informed the policeman that I was headed to the hospital (which was a few blocks away). I told him that he was welcome to follow me to the hospital and that, once my wife was safe, I would show him my licence and do whatever I was instructed to do.  He followed me to the hospital, checked my license and insurance, gave me an obligatory “lecture” about safe driving, and wished me luck for a successful birth.  He did not give me a ticket.

In this example, I was highly motivated to get to the hospital. My anxiety, manifested as eustress, led me to go as far over the “limit” as I could go and to ignore traffic signs if it was safe to do so. The car was my powerful vehicle. Road and traffic conditions and the policeman were bits of information I needed to take into consideration.

The emotional part of my brain (the Limbic System) pushed my behavior and the thinking, or logical, part of my brain (the cerebral cortex), analyzed my situation, considered all the available information including  both the need to get safely to the hospital as quickly as possible and to acknowledge the cop, and gave me the solution I needed to both validate my emotion and get my wife the care she needed.

Whether I did the right thing is certainly arguable and whether you agree with what I did is not the point. I give this example only to illustrate how emotions and logic can reinforce each other.

This is how emotions and logic should work together.

While you can download a copy of the Anger Mastery Cycle above (the same cycle basically applies to most emotions),  here is a quick review of how emotions work.

  • You constantly, automatically and subconsciously scan your surroundings for  possible threats.
  • When a threat is perceived, a fast track signal is sent to the Limbic System which prepares you for fight or flight. This is your emotional reaction and is the message of the emotion.
  • Simultaneously, a slower signal goes to the Cerebral Cortex which allows you to validate and assess the nature of the threat.
  • If a threat exists, you have the opportunity to choose how you want to respond.
  • Emotional mastery involves matching your response to the actual nature of the perceived threat.

Emotional Mastery: Emotion and Logic Together

You master your emotion when you understand the message of the emotion, add a “break” between the emotional reaction and your response, use this physical and psychological break to calm yourself and logically assess the nature of the threat to determine the extent to which your reality matches the threat and the alert message your emotion is giving you. Logic can then inform you about your response options so you can make an effective choice.

Here is the message of some well known emotions:

  • Anger: There is a threat facing me that I can eliminate by attacking it.  I am ready for battle.
  • Anxiety: There may be a threat in the future that might hurt me. I am EITHER prepared to run away to avoid the threat while still consumed by it (anxiety as distress) OR take action to nullify the threat (anxiety as eustress).
  • Jealousy: There is a  threat to my relationship.  Another person may be trying to take the affection of my significant other away from me.
  • Guilt: I have done something wrong and violated my sense of right and wrong.

If you know the message of the emotion, you can logically assess your situation to see if you have correctly or incorrectly perceived what it going on.  You can get feedback from others.  Following this “assessment”, you can choose, and implement, your response.

This is how you validate your emotions and use their messages to inform you about your surroundings.  From this perspective, you want more emotions.  This is the same reasoning you use to put both a smoke detector and a Carbon Monoxide detector in your house. And, maybe, add a security system.

You deploy your logic to give you viable options to effective master your situation.

I welcome your comments.


Emotions and Logic…Mutually Exclusive or Mutually Reinforcing? Part 1: Mutually Exclusive So Less Emotion.

This is part 1 of a two part blog post on emotions…

We live in a world in which events like school shootings, a lone gunman firing an  automatic weapon into a crowd of people attending an outdoor concert, or a policemen beating up a person of interest or shooting and killing an unarmed individual pleading for his own safety strain our ability to understand what leads these people to act in this manner and beg for a reasonable explanation.

As these behaviors do not appear to be logical, the explanations often include some reference to mental illness and attempt to blame the behavior on emotions gone awry.

In other words, so the thinking goes, these people must be crazy to do what they did and they must be under the control of their emotions.

If they were “in their right minds”, they would control themselves and act more appropriately. The implication is that we need both more treatment for mental illness, and more  logic (less emotion) in our country.

Yes, having logical, in control, people making good decisions is both helpful and desirable. And, yes, we do need more to make mental health treatment more available in this country.

Is it possible that you can have logical, in control, people making, what most people consider very bad decisions and engaging in equally egregious behavior based on those decisions?

The answer is, “yes”.

The issue here is neither about mental health treatment or about emotions verses logic.

While I am in no way condoning the deplorable behavior listed above and it is possible that mental illness was a factor, I am questioning three primary assumptions that pop up every time some outrageous behavior appears in the news:

1. All human behavior is either logical or it is emotional.

If the behavior is logical, it is appropriate, controlled, and understandable.

If it is not logical, it must be emotional (erratic, driven, devoid of logic).

2. Any behavior that doesn’t seem logical to us must be the result of emotions gone awry.

If the behavior is illogical, it must be due to emotions which have hijacked the person and are causing the deplorable behavior.

3.  Out of control behaviors imply the presence of mental illness.

So, you are either behaviorally stable or mentally ill.

The implication is that we need more logic and less emotion.

If emotions led to insane, out of control people, we’d be crazy to want more emotions.

Indeed, nobody wants crazed automatons running around doing dumb destructive things. No argument there, we all want to avoid dumb destructive behavior.

But, bad decisions and the undesirable behavior that follows from these decisions do not necessarily prove the presence of mental illness.

And, the unfortunate spin-off from demonizing emotions in the case of egregious behavior is that all emotions (when experienced and misunderstood) begin to be seen as “bad”, “undesirable”, “intrusive”, etc.

Let’s dive a little deeper….

While there may be a modicum of truth in each, statements 1, 2, and 3 are for the most part limited, misguided, incorrect and misleading.

  • Statement #1 is a false dichotomy.
  • Statement #2 implies that one’s emotions have become both autonomous and cancerous.
  • Statement #3 implies that anything we do not understand must be attributed to an underlying disease process.

So, if the issue is not the behavior on which we all agree, what is the issue that we need to discuss?

This is the critical question.

The answer is not the emotions, per se, although how we deal with our emotions is an important topic.

Rather, the critical issue we need to discuss is how we, as a culture, and you, as an individual, view emotions.  In other words, what do you think emotions are and how do believe they impact each of us?

If your picture of emotions is that they…

  • force an out of control road-rage crazed driver to shoot at another car, or
  • leave the out of control cop with no other alternative than to shoot or beat up a perpetrator, or
  • compel the out of control  spouse, boyfriend, or girlfriend to beat up their significant other, or
  • cause the out of control  co-worker  to get angry with  and demean you, as a female, when you point out their inappropriate behavior in the office,

then, yes, less emotion is needed.

But, what if your picture is inaccurate?

“Out of control” implies that feelings….

  • have taken over,
  • are totally controlling,
  • are forcing and compelling a certain behavior while eliminating alternatives, and
  • are causing the individual to engage in the clearly unacceptable behavior they’ve displayed.

Take another look at these words…

>taken over  >totally controlling  >forcing  >compelling    >causing

These words imply that the individual’s (male or female) emotions have transformed this person into a  robot.

In this picture, emotions and logic are mutually exclusive.

  • You are either an emotional time-bomb waiting to explode with no logical fail-safe mechanisms in place


  • You are an unemotional, logic-only Vulcan (think Spock in the TV series StarTrek) who has eliminated emotion from his life.

I am suggesting that emotions and logic are mutually reinforcing and when used together can lead to better decisions and more appropriate actions.

This is where we’ll begin in Part 2.



Getting to “Done”: Master Your Procrastination as a Strategic Tool

In an earlier post (Dealing with Procrastination as Anxiety 5/11/16), I noted that most of the procrastination literature tends to focus on two strategies:

  1. setting S.M.A.R.T (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic) goals, breaking those goals down into smaller components, and
  2.  rewarding yourself when you complete those smaller chunks.

These are both very good strategies.

Procrastination as Anxiety

I suggested a three step process based on The Emotions as Tools Model and the idea that procrastination is basically fueled by the emotion of anxiety.

The three steps were:

  1. Accept and Validate Your Anxiety.
  2. Turn Anxiety into anticipation and excitement. (eustress)
  3. Let the excitement motivate you and move you past your procrastination.

These three steps remain relevant as long as you can identify the anxiety which underlies and perpetuates your procrastination.

Procrastination and factors other than anxiety: Mastering Procrastination

But, what if something else (either as a unique factor or in combination with anxiety) elicits your procrastination?

I’m suggesting that you approach procrastination as if it were an emotion. In all my posts, I talk of emotions as tools that provide you with information about how you perceive and interact with your surroundings.

Procrastination is a behavior not a feeling.  But, you can look at your behavior as a “messenger” and learn to master it.

Mastering your procrastination involves assessing what is going on with you and your choice to procrastinate and choosing a more adaptive response rather than the avoiding/delaying reaction which constitutes your procrastination.

The mastery process of dealing with your procrastination requires:

  • validating the procrastination
    • accepting instead of getting mad at yourself for procrastinating,
  • assessing the message of your behavior
    • what is leading you to avoid the important task and focus on the urgent task which is demanding your attention,
  • noticing what you are gaining by procrastinating
    • avoiding an uncomfortable task,
    • being forced to accept that you are not up to or sufficiently prepared for the task
    • accepting that you were not being assertive in making it clear that the task was not appropriate for you or in saying “no”,
    • denying your anger because the task was forced on you
    • etc
  • attending to what you are telling yourself to justify your procrastination,

Moving past your procrastination by making a choice.

Once you understand the message of the procrastination and what your procrastinating is doing for you, you can decide how you want to respond to and deal with your delaying/avoiding behavior.

Possibilities include:

  • Setting better goals
  • Taking a different approach to the task
  • Choosing not to complete the task

Make a plan and get to work.

I welcome your comments.


Understanding Feelings: Sunglasses, The Spotlight Effect, and Your World Model (Part 2)

This is the second part of a two part post on understanding feelings.

In my last post, I spoke about a conversation in which my emotionally neutral comment was met with an emotionally tinged reaction which was not expected, did not match the intent, tone or nature of my comment and seemed confusing.

I suggested that the response I received may have been impacted by the filters through which the person I was addressing was interpreting my comment.

These filters, like sunglasses, change how an event is perceived.

I should add here that I am using a conversation as a generic, or general, example of an interaction.  The same mismatch between what you do and how others react to you can involve any action on your part such as making a suggestion in a meeting, asking for a favor, asking someone out on a date, offering to help a friend, refusing a request, and so forth.

Let’s dive deeper.

Feelings and actions

Fact #1: Our actions (behavior) follow from and are directly related to what we feel about the situations in which we find ourselves.

Fact #2: Our feelings (emotions) come from our thoughts about how we perceive our surroundings.

There are 6 primary feelings (mad, sad, glad, fear, disgust and surprise) which have helped us survive as a species since we lived in caves, appear very early in infants and adults across all human cultures (and some subhuman species) and which function today just as they did millennia ago. With the exception of glad and surprise, all the primary emotions are primitive threat detectors.

All the threats Mr. and Mrs. Caveman faced were survival based.

The way the emotional “system” works is that you constantly scan your surroundings for threat.  When subconsciously perceived, threat activates the fight/flight reaction in your brain, generates and emotion, and prepares you to go to war or get the hell away.  This reaction was basically all our cave ancestors had available to them to stay alive in the face of a threat that would kill them.

Today, most of our threats are psychological, not survival based, and we have evolved a mechanism to evaluate threats.  When a threat is perceived,  a second message is sent to the thinking part of the brain (the cortex) which allows us to use the emotion as a tool and think about, assess, and validate the nature of the threat so that we can respond rather than react to the threat.

When feelings are viewed as problematic and as autonomously “forcing” us to take action, we do not assess the feelings (or the nature of the threat) and our feelings become part of the filters through which we view others.

Spotlight effect

FYI: Here is a YouTube segment on the SpotLight effect.

This is the tendency of a person, when emotional, to believe that they are the center of other’s attention and that the actions of others are both directed at and specifically involve the individual.

A classic study was done in which volunteers wore tee shirts with sayings  which could be seen as “provocative” (Barry Manilow ) by a group of others (college students participating in an experiment).

Note: At the time, Barry Manilow was not very popular among college students.

When asked if they were noticed, the volunteers believed that a majority of people in the study group noticed and their shirts.  Most of the college students, when asked, didn’t even notice the Barry Manilow shirts.

When we view the world through a set of filters, we tend to react as if everything that happens around us is all about us.  This is often an incorrect assumption. It is called the Spotlight Effect because we act as if there is a spotlight on us which illuminates and sets us apart.

Your World Model

Your model of the world is your set of filters through which you view the world.

Your model of the world consists of:

  • The stereotypes you use to measure other people.

One example is the following: Marie is doing that because she is a woman (not because she is Marie taking action in the moment).

  • The extent to which you tend to overgeneralize in how you interpret a situation as opposed to dealing with each interaction based on what is actually taking place.

An example is the following: All men are … (not Yes, Sam is a man but he is also an individual taking action in the moment). or The Boss always does XYZ as opposed to The Boss did XYZ in this situation.)

  • The extent to which your past impacts your present interactions.  Being in the present moment is called mindfulness.

An example is the following: Every time I’ve tried to stand up for myself, I’ve been criticized. I’ll just shut up because nothing will happen anyway. as opposed to Well, I’ll give it a shot this time,  maybe, it will turn out differently.

Actions follow from our feelings.  Our feelings come from our thoughts and our perceptions.  Thoughts both create and come from our filters. We don’t question our own thoughts, we accept them as reality.

We take action based on our perceived reality (our filters, the Spotlight Effect and our worldview).

When another person reacts to you in a way that seems contradictory, disproportionate, or inappropriate, you may be able gain an understanding of their actions by attempting to gain some insight into their model of the world.

This is also true when your reaction to another person results in consequences you do not want.

If the relationship with this person is important to you, then learning how to understand their world view may be worthwhile.

I welcome your comments.

Understanding Feelings: Sunglasses, The Spotlight Effect, and Your World Model (Part 1)

You probably looked at the title of this blog and said, “Huh?”

Well, if you will bare with me, I’ll explain a very important concept that will help you make sense of some of the experiences you (or someone you know) have already had.

A few years ago, I started a conversation with an acquaintance of mine by saying, “How are you doing?”.

To my surprise, without even a pause, he looked at me intensely and said, “What exactly do you mean?”

I wasn’t sure how to respond.

So, I rather lamely said, “Nothing, really.”

I found out later from a mutual friend that this individual had been accused of having done something about which he was embarrassed. His comment to me implied that he thought I was prying or drawing attention to his situation.

In fact, I knew nothing about what he was experiencing and was merely saying, “Hello.”

My initial question to him was only intended to communicate to him that I was acknowledging his presence.

In other words, asking “How are you doing?” was the same as  saying “Hello.”

Clearly, my friend viewed my communication very differently than I did.

If you have ever had a conversation “go sideways” and wondered what was happening, here is one possible explanation.

Each of us views the world, and our interactions with it, through a set of filters based on our past, what we may be experiencing in the moment, our expectations, and so forth.

When our interactions with others are not impacted by emotions and there are no effective filters operating, our communication, generally, are clear and absent of misunderstanding.

If, however, in an interaction, you get a response to which you automatically think “Huh?”, then it is quite likely that the person with whom you are interacting has misunderstood what you have said (or done) and is viewing the interaction through a filter.


When you put on a pair of sunglasses (brown, green, grey, yellow), you notice that your view of the world appears to change. As you know you are wearing sunglasses, you realize the “change” is not real but is due to the filter you are wearing.

But, imagine that you did not know you were wearing sunglasses?

An experiment was done several years ago in which volunteers were fitted with glasses which turned the world upside down.  Initially, as you would imagine, they were disoriented.  Over time, however, they adjusted to their new perspective and were able to function “normally”.  They functioned as if the filters were not there.

But, the filters were there!

We do the same thing with the filters we wear. We get used to them and may not be aware that they exist and impact the way we interact with the world.

What are some of our filters?

  • Gender:

Are you misjudged as a man just because you are a man?

Are you misjudged as a woman in a professional setting just because you are an assertive woman.

  • Age:

Do people misjudge you based on their perceptions of your age (too old or too young)?

  • Race/Ethnicity:

Are you misjudged by others based on your race or ethnicity?

  • Past experiences related to abuse, unfair treatment, feeling misunderstood or inadequate.

To what extent might the past experiences of the individual with whom you are interacting be impacting how they are interacting with you?

If this person’s past experiences have led them to be excessively self-protective, it is possible that they are relating to you, in the present, as if you are similar to those people in their past who misjudged, or mistreated, them.


It is important to point out that I am not, in this post, referring to someone who, as a “racist” or a “misogynist”, demeans an entire class of people based solely on a specific characteristic.  While there certainly are filters that are operative which impact this person’s actions, dealing with these individuals can be very complicated.

I am more interested, in this post, in people who may not be mean-spirited but who judge others and interact with them based on misinformation or stereotypes. For these folks, the extent to which their filters impair their interpersonal interactions is less severe than it is for a “racist” or a “misogynist”.

Misinformation and stereotypes can be corrected.

Attitudes that are mean-spirited, derogatory and demeaning typically are resistant to change. Racism and misogyny are often denied, are abhorrent, and are very hard to redirect.

In this post, I have introduced the concept of an individual’s filters and the idea that one’s behavior can be, unknowingly, impacted by their filters.

In part 2, I will explore feelings, the Spotlight Effect, and one’s Model of the World.


Using metaphor: Ready, Aim, Fire or Ready, Fire, Aim?

Do you know someone who gets angry, does something others view as inappropriate and, later upon reflection, realizes the inappropriateness of their actions and attempts to deny, justify, avoid, or apologize for their actions?

The following post may help you (and maybe them) get a better understanding of what is going on.

Ready, Aim, Fire

As a boy scout, learning to fire a weapon (rifle, bow and arrow, cannon), I remember the commands to prepare the weapon to be used (and myself to use it), take aim on the target, and (when authorized), fire the weapon.

This progression from preparing to execute a response (ready), to focusing your attention on the task at hand (aim), and, finally,taking effective action (fire) makes sense intuitively.

In other contexts such as project management, the same progression might involve brainstorming (ready), goal setting or gathering resources (aim), and starting a project (fire).

Okay, I think you get the idea.

Ready, Fire, Aim

But, what if a person got an idea (ready) and jumped right in to the implementation phase (fire)?

If the result turned out badly, we wouldn’t be surprised.  The failure to focus one’s attention on all the issues (aim) before rather than after the fact would lead to unwanted results.

We would describe the above process as– Ready, Fire, Aim.

For people who believe that their anger controls them and who tend to take action too quickly when they experience anger , this is exactly what they are doing. Their regret and subsequent reflection come later  when they experience unwanted consequences from their behavior.

In other words…

Ready: the subconscious reaction to a situation which is initially perceived as a threat.

Fire: a disproprotionate angry response.

Aim: the consideration, after the fact, that one’s behavior was not proportionate to the perceived threat.

Those who react in this way to a perceived threat are often described by others as “having an anger problem”.

While, as I have noted in previous posts, that there is no such thing as an “anger problem”, revisiting the Anger Mastery Cycle should be helpful in teaching someone a more adaptive way to interact with their anger.

Ready, Aim, Fire and Anger Mastery

Ready:  This is the subconscious reaction to a situation which is initially perceived as a threat.  We are on alert status.

The Anger Mastery Cycle (a free copy of which is downloadable above) notes that we subconsciously scan for, and react to, perceived threats (injustices, our values being ignored or challenged, our beliefs being infringed upon or our boundaries being violated, our security at risk being put at risk, etc).  This scanning is both hard-wired and ancient and prepares us to go into battle.

Aim: The mastery process of assessing and validating the situation to determine whether the initial perception was accurate.

When we master our anger, we S.T.O.P the process from moving to a response from our reaction.

S.T.O. P. stands for stopping or pausing the anger, taking a physical and psychological step back from the perceived threat, observing what is happening and practicing emotional intelligence.

Fire:  The expression of anger proportionate to meet the perceived threat.

Using “ready, aim, fire” as a metaphor

If you have ever attempted to “explain” anger to a person whose anger is perceived by them as more powerful than they and as controlling them, you have discovered that it is difficult to get their attention.

Metaphors tend to cut through defenses because they approach an uncomfortable subject indirectly.

The effectiveness of a metaphor stems from…

  1. You are talking about firing a weapon or planning a project and how ready, fire, aim  is not productive.  You are not talking about “managing anger”.
  2. The person knows that the actions they have taken while angry have elicited unwanted consequenses.
  3. You are putting their actions (and anger) in a different context than others who have tried to address this issue.
  4. You are implying that they can learn a different approach (ready, aim, fire).

Once you have their attention and they are interested in what you have to say, you may be able to address their anger directly.

Please note that this post is intended only to raise some issues and is in no way comprehensive.

If you have additional questions about using metaphors to deal with “touchy” subjects or about anger, please leave a comment or email me.

TheEmotionsDoctor at gmail.com


Happy Independence Day. Let’s Talk about Emotional Preparedness and Your Emotional Independence.

Happy Independence Day, America…

Our forefathers knew the consequences when they put their names on the Declaration of Independence. They risked being jailed, losing their land, or worse.

While emotions must have run very high in the room, we have to assume that each signer was emotionally prepared to face the consequences and take the momentous action facing them.

Anyone who reads the news is familiar with the First Responders who rush in to offer aid when emergencies occur.  These “heros” (they don’t see themselves this way) are firefighters saving homes, police protecting citizens and so forth.

These first First Responders are trained to both deal with the emergency they are called in to handle and with the emotions that must be mastered during the crisis so that these feelings do not interfere with the job that needs to be done.

First Responders are expert firefighters, policemen, medical personnel etc and they are masters of their emotions.

While I hope you never have to face a life-saving emergency or threat to your life, loved ones, or property, it is more than likely that, when you face your own emotional emergencies, you will find yourself in a situation in which your emotions seem to take over and get in the way of you “getting the job done”.

Like many people, you may believe (based on your experience) that your emotions control you.  You feel angry and you act out in an angry outburst.  You feel anxious and you worry compulsively about some future event.

While your experience may inform you that your feelings exert some irresistible power over you, your experiences and your interpretations of those experiences are incorrect.

Just like the First Responders who train for the emergencies they will certainly face, you can prepare yourself and “train” for your next encounter with your feelings.

This is what emotional mastery is all about.

Let’s review the emotional mastery cycle.

By the way, you can download a copy of the anger mastery cycle by scrolling up to the homepage above and clicking on the Emotional Mastery Cycle PDF on the right hand side of the page under “Pages”.  While this chart covers anger specifically, the same process (with some modifications) applies to all emotions.

The emotional mastery cycle starts with you constantly, and subconsciously, scanning your surroundings for any possible threat.  Once a threat is perceived, the body goes on “alert” and prepares itself to deal with the perceived threat.

No action on your part is required up to this point as your body is doing what it was designed to do.  Your body is engaged in a process to help you survive.

Once you become aware of the emotion that you are feeling, mastering your emotion calls for you to first “manage” the emotion by S.T.O.P (ing) the emotional process. As I discuss in my Amazon best selling book Beyond Anger Management: Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool, the “S” in S.T.O.P  reminds you to stop or pause your emotion.

This sounds difficult but is quite learnable.  You pause the process by taking a deep breath.

While your current emotional process may involve feeling the emotion and reacting, you can prepare yourself to take a breath whenever you feel an “emergency” emotion such as anxiety, anger, jealousy, envy and so forth.

I call these “emergency” emotions because they alert you to a situation which you perceive to be problematic, needing your attention, or something you might need to avoid or go to war over.

These are the messages of the emotion.  They reflect your initial perception.  They do not, necessarily, reflect the “truth”.

After you take a deep breath, the “T” in S.T.O.P  reminds you to take a psychological and physical step back from the situation.  When you “step back” from the situation, you give yourself some “space” to reflect on what is actually going on.

Taking a step back creates the space so you can engage the “O”which reminds you to observe what is actually going on.

Now that you have taken a breath to slow the emotional process, taken a step back to give you some space to reflect, and used that space to observe, you are ready for “P” which reminds you to practice emotional intelligence.

Being emotionally intelligent is the essence of emotional mastery.

The final step in mastering your emotion is to assess and validate the emotion you are feeling and choose an appropriate response.

In this step, you objectively decide whether there is (or is not) an actual “emergency”, whether the feeling you are experiencing “fits” the situation, and what response, if any, will best serve to deal with the situation you are facing.

When a First Responder trains, he or she, goes through a variety of simulations which approximate the emergencies they will encounter and hone the skills they will eventually need.

Many professional atheletes not only physically practice their sport but “visualize” being successful.  They use their imaginations to prepare them for competition.

Your emotional preparedness.

  • You can use your imagination by thinking about situations which, for you, elicit “emergency” emotions.  When you do this, you may actually feel that emotion. 
  • Once you imagine the situation, visualize yourself going through the emotional mastery cycle (including S.T.O.P), assessing the situation, and choosing a response.
  • You may have to do this several times.

By preparing yourself to master your emotions, you will be more adept at successfully dealing with your “emergencies”.

You also move toward emotional independence because emotional mastery means you are using your emotions as tools.

What I am suggesting is not easy but it is doable.

I welcome your comments.

Anger and Thirst

Recently, the following question appeared on Quora: 

When you get angry at someone, what do you do?

Two answers caught my attention because they reflect very common responses to dealing with anger.

1.When you’re angry, don’t act. Don’t speak. Don’t do anything.

2.When I get angry, I listen to music (not fast) and I eat some food. Maybe I’ll get some sleep or read a book.

Both answers reflect a common misconception of anger as a dangerous emotion which causes one to do something they later regret (my emphasis added).

The first answer suggests that you should do nothing.  This answer is misleading and may prevent someone (particularly a woman) from dealing with a perceived threat.

The second answer is about avoiding anger by distraction or avoidance.

Let’s clear up this misunderstanding.

Forget what you may have been told about emotions.

The facts is that anger, and all emotions, are your body’s way of alerting you to situations in your surroundings which require your attention and, possibly, a decision  from you about how to deal with that situation.

Emotions are your “early warning system”.

Let me put this into perspective for you.

Suppose I asked you this question…

What do you do when your body tells you that you are thirsty?

And you responded, “Don’t act, Do Nothing, Go someplace and listen to quiet music.”

People would think your answer was very strange and that it seemed to miss the point of the question.

The reason for this is that everyone understands that “being thirsty” is…

1) your body’s way of alerting you to a possible threat of dehydration


2) a motivator moving you to deal with the threat by taking action (getting a drink).

Thirst is a messenger and a motivator.

Your emotions also are messengers and motivators.

The emotion of anger (one of 6 primary emotions) is a primitive threat detector.

Anger is a messenger and a motivator.

Anger both…

1) alerts you that you have perceived a threat (to your goals, values, view of right and wrong) in your environment


2) motivates you to take action to eliminate the threat.

Just like thirst.

Let me take it one more step..

Suppose you were really thirsty and you decided to go into a local store and steal some water at gun point.

Yes, I know I am exaggerating.

No one would blame the thirst for your behavior. They would say, “You were thirsty and you chose to steal the water.”

But, people do blame their anger for their behavior.

Think about the celebrity or athlete who who beats up his girlfriend and says, “My anger made me do it.”

He, in fact, blames his anger so that he can avoid responsibility for his decision to beat up his girlfriend.

I grant you that people do some really dumb things when they get angry. But, their behavior is always a choice.

Emotions motivate, they do not cause behavior.

The solution is not to ignore the anger as suggested in Answer #2.

If you ignore, or avoid, your anger and the situation about which your emotion sent out an alert, the emotion will just come back.

Just like you will continue to be thirsty.

Rather, as I have noted in my Amazon bestselling book: Beyond Anger Management Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool, the solution is to …

*learn to recognize your anger,

*take a deep breath to calm yourself,

*take a step back from the situation to give yourself some perspective,


*choose how you want to respond to the situation to effectively deal with the threat.

You can download the first two chapters of my book by scrolling up to the welcome post above and clicking on the link.

By the way, I noted that your answer might rob someone of the opportunity to deal with a threat.

Women today (not my view but that of 2000 professional women on LI) do not feel comfortable expressing anger because when they do (in a professional setting), they are demeaned, labelled, and marginalized by their male co-workers.

I know this does not apply to all women in all settings.

By validating anger for both men and women and teaching them how to adaptively master their anger, everyone wins.

Why do I feel angry when I have no reason to be? P 2

This is the second of two posts addressing three possible explanations for the experience of feeling angry when there is no reason to be angry. In my last post, I discussed the first two possibilities.  In this post, I discuss possibility #3 and give some additional suggestions for actions you could take if this experience applies to you.

3. It feels like anger but isn’t.

a. Anger as a secondary emotion.

Sometimes men (more so than women) will express anger when there is no immediate threat.  When this happens, anger is a secondary emotion. It feels, and looks like, anger but isn’t.

There are at least two reasons why anger is expressed as a secondary emotion.

The first is that men, in our culture, are very familiar with and, in most cases, comfortable with the emotion of anger. They are less familiar with emotions such as anxiety, sadness, and vulnerability.  As a result, a man who feels vulnerable may express anger to cover over this other, uncomfortable, feeling.

Secondly, and similar to the above, anger is an empowering emotion which is experienced as energizing.  Other feelings such as anxiety, sadness and vulnerability are experienced as uncomfortable and weak.  Because of this, anger may be expressed as a secondary emotion in order to avoid discomfort.

b. Anger as an instrumental emotion.

When we lived in caves, our display of anger communicated to others that we were not to be messed with and should be left alone.  In caveman times, this anger display might have saved our lives.

Fast forward to today.  You are walking down the street and you see a person who is obvious angry and is loudly ranting and raving.  You probably will do what you can to  avoid this person.

Because of the nature of anger, it is possible to use anger to manipulate others into doing what you want in order to avoid having to deal with, or be subjected to, your anger.

When anger is used as an instrument to manipulate others, it is called instrumental anger.  It looks like anger but there is not threat so it is not valid anger. If you are not aware that you are using anger instrumentally, you may experience yourself as getting angry for “no reason”.

Some suggestions:

The antidote to all three of the above explanations is mastering your anger.

The Anger Mastery Cycle (AMC), a copy of which you can download by clicking on the link to the right of your screen, visually depicts the anger process and covers both valid (primary) anger and invalid (substituted) anger.

Once you have become aware that you are angry, the AMC indicates that you need to “assess/validate” your angry reaction.  In this step, you are engaging your cerebral cortex to determine whether a threat exists or not.

This will take some practice but I have given you some guidelines which should help focus your attention on what it is you are looking for in your assessment.

Possible arenas of threat include your goals, your sense of right and wrong, the way you think things “should” be, your values, your ego, your family, your finances, etc.  The next time you get angry, take a breath, take a step back from what is going on, and ask yourself “What is being threatened?”

As soon as you become aware of your anger,

  1. Take a deep breath
  2. Next, take a physical step backwards from the situation.
  3. Then, just observe for a moment what is going on. Consider both your own perceptions and the feedback you are getting from others.  In this step, you need avoid getting defensive (not easy to do but doable with practice) and remain open to the possibility that what others are telling may be correct.

If you can ID a threat, great. You can choose how you want to proceed. In this case, you really are angry for a reason.

If you are unable to ID a threat, no problem. You may be angry “for no reason” and you have options.

  1. You can walk away and revisit the situation later.
  2. You can apologize to the other person.
  3. You can learn about what anger might be when it isn’t anger including anger as a substitute for other feelings such as anxiety, guilt, or sadness and anger as an instrumental emotion which is designed to manipulate another person.

The bottom line here is that you need to learn to always validate your anger as it is an important emotional tool that provides you with information. Validating, or accepting your anger does not mean that you have a valid reason for your anger.

Sometimes, you will be angry for a reason and sometimes you will be angry for no reason.  The goal is to learn the difference.

One issue is that the information your anger gives you, while based on your perceptions, may be incorrect because you have misperceived what is going on. Explanation 1 and 2 covered this and I gave you some ideas about what you can do.

The second issue is substituting anger for other feelings or intent.  This is explanation 3.  Becoming aware that this is how you are using anger requires that you be honest and open with yourself, get feedback (and help) from others, and work on developing new emotional habits.

Over time, you will become more adept at recognizing threats, when they exist.

I welcome your comments.