One of my worst faults is my tendency to “snap” – to react sharply, in a minor but harsh way. This trait clouds my happiness and the happiness of everyone who feels the lash.
The conventional advice for mastering your temper is to “Count to 10” before reacting. My problem is that, in the difficult moment, it never occurs to me to count to ten.
Figuring out ways to control my snappishness has been one of my chief goals for my happiness project. To try to rein it in, I’ve tried everything from getting more sleep to the Week of Extreme Nice to hypnosis.
I also came up with a set of questions that kick into my brain (sometimes) in time to affect my behavior.
When I feel myself losing my temper, if I can muster the mindfulness to be self-reflective, I ask myself these questions:
1. Am I at fault? I hate to be criticized or to be in the wrong. Often, I’m angriest when someone is chiding me about something that I am, indeed, guilty of. When I’m about to hit back, I remind myself to accept criticism politely, if grudgingly.
2. Will this solve anything? I often snap when I feel like I’m confronting the same annoyance over and over. Fact is, people often have irritating habits that aren’t going to change. Failure to meet deadlines, failure to return phone calls, untidiness, etc., etc. I try to remember that snapping isn’t going to make any difference, but will only make me feel bad.
3. Am I improving the situation? This is particularly important with my younger daughter. If I lose my temper with her, the problem just escalates to a whole new horrible level. She dissolves into tears and wails, “You talked to me in a mean voice!” It’s far more effective to stay calm. Also, nicer.
4. Should I be helping you? Often, I lose my temper because I’m actually feeling guilty about my own unhelpfulness. My guilt makes me crabby, but it’s really a sign that I should be taking action.
5. Am I uncomfortable? Discomfort shortens my fuse. I’ve become much more careful to dress warmly (even when people make fun of my long underwear and double sweaters), to snack more often, to turn off the light when I’m sleepy, and to take pain medication as soon as I get a headache. The Duke of Wellington advised, “Always make water when you can,” and I follow that precept, too.
6. Can I make a joke of this? Using humor is extraordinarily effective, but I usually can’t find the inner depths to laugh at an annoying situation. A distant goal for which I’m striving.
It’s tempting to dwell on questions like, “Whose fault is it?” or “Why am I upset?” but in the end, these tend to stoke my temper instead of soothe it. I try to remind myself that no behavior is annoying if I don’t find it annoying. A hackneyed observation, but true.
Have you found any good strategies for keeping your cool?
* My friend Erin Doland is the editor-in-chief of the fabulous site, Unclutterer, and now the excellent Simplifried --"a blog about ending mealtime stress. If your nerves are fried, we'll be your simple, delicious, and nutritious cooking guide." The Simplifried Manifesto says it all!
* Sign up for the Moment of Happiness, and each weekday morning, you'll get a happiness quotation in your email in-box. Sign up here or email me at gretchenrubin1 at gmail dot com (don't forget the "1"). I'm thrilled by the response to this -- I started it just a few weeks ago, and almost twelve thousand people have signed up already.