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


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.