Living with Type-A Behavior

You're a hurried, angry person. Now what?

Posted Aug 18, 2015

Daniel Carlbom, CC 2.0
Source: Daniel Carlbom, CC 2.0

Some people are hurried and quick to anger. Drs. Meyer Friedman and Ray Rosenman labeled them Type A and found that they have increased risk of cardiovascular disease. They also are likely to turn off many people, even fellow Type As.

Type As are reluctant to change because their adrenalized behavior, at least short-term, tends to yield greater accomplishment. Also, it's exciting: Adrenaline boosts engagement.  Even Type Bs use that, for example, by procrastinating on a project until the last minute when adrenaline pushes them to do the task. But for Type As, the adrenalized existence is a way of life. They're addicted to adrenaline.

Here are common Type A behaviors. Do any apply to you? Any you want to change?

Common Type-A behaviors

Tightly scheduling yourself. There's only one way that everything can go right and an infinite number of ways something can go wrong. So if you schedule yourself too tightly, you will usually run behind, increasing your heart rate, blood pressure, and cortisol release, not good. On the other hand, net, a tight schedule probably helps you get more done. Do you want to leave more breathing room between appointments?

Letting yourself explode too easily.  Type As go from 0 to 60 in two seconds. If that's you and you feel your explosions hurt you and your interactions, to change, you must remain vigilant to the first hint you're about to blow and then take a deep breath or two. That buys you a little time to decide if you want to lash out and, if not, to calm yourself. That won't work all the time but it will help.

Playing adrenalizing games.  Type As play games with themselves to boost their adrenaline flow. For example, they rush everything: eating, working, playing, even sex. They love multitasking. They often try to get to their destination more quickly than they could without rushing. In discussion, they say controversial or insulting things to adrenalize the conversation. They engage in adrenalizing hobbies: gambling, day-trading, or excess aggressiveness in sports, mountain biking, driving, trigger-finger video games, etc. They may even catastrophize bodily sensations: "What if this feeling is a sign of cancer?"

Conversely, they avoid low-adrenaline activities; making crafts, watching comedies, yoga.

Escalating the pace.  Doing things quickly and time-efficiently is usually fine, even highly desirable. But as legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden told his players, "Be quick but don't hurry."

Type As speak hurriedly and exacerbate the problem by not monitoring their speed, by interrupting, or even by intentionally speeding up. They rationalize that it makes them seem smart and their conversation more engaging. More likely it makes them say things they regret and their conversation partners uncomfortable, dislike them, and less likely to agree with their position and recommendations, which usually are dispensed as exhortations. 

Ascribing undue urgency. Type As ratchet-up tasks' urgency beyond the rational. Do you want to be more conscious about assessing how urgent something is? About the risk/reward ratio of pushing someone to respond as urgently?

Impulsivity.  Type As get a rush from quick decision-making, and that can be effective. Indeed, many Silicon Valley executives operate from the principle, "Ready, Fire, Aim." But increased speed increases the risk of error. Especially with important decisions, do you want to slow down to consider the problem in fuller-dimension, for example, the likelihood of possible side effects?

A positive note

Type As, as a group, make outsized contributions to the world yet are frequently denigrated. Whether or not you want to tone down your Type-A behavior, your overall approach to life may be at least as meritorious as that of the laid-back person.

Note: You may want to read the follow-up article: Dealing with an Intense Person.

Marty Nemko's bio is in Wikipedia.