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.