How can one control short temper?

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

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

Let me elaborate on the italicized words above….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Old reaction: Get angry ==> take action

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

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

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

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

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

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