Staying Calm

Tips for being less reactive in response to annoyances

Posted Nov 29, 2016

Pixabay, CC0 Public Domain
Source: Pixabay, CC0 Public Domain

A caller to my radio program said she'd like to do a better job of anger management, of not being so reactive to life's annoyances. Here's an edited transcript of our exchange.

CALLER: I overreact. I’d like to be able to react kindly or at least neutrally when I get annoyed. I’d really like to change my personality.

MARTY NEMKO:  It’s hard to do that globally. Like a salami, it’s usually easier to eat it a slice at a time. So what’s one thing you want to accept more gracefully?

C:  I know it sounds small but I’d like to not get so annoyed when I’m in the left lane and the driver ahead of me is driving slower than the traffic in the middle lane. Why doesn’t he just move over?

MN: What would your wiser twin sister tell you?

C:  She would say let it go.

M: Why should you let it go?

C: Because there’s nothing you can do about it.

M: You could honk at the driver. On one hand, maybe you'd awaken the person. On the other hand, the act of blowing your horn would make you more upset.

C: I should let it go.

M:  So you think you pay a price for reacting to his bad behavior, even if it’s just disturbing your peace of mind, or distracting you from something more important you’re thinking about?

C: Yes. Any other tips that could help me?

M:  Here are three:

  • Rehearse. Just as kids play doctor to reduce their fear of going to the doctor, before getting into the car, you might rehearse how you’ll respond when the inevitable driver cuts you off, drives too slowly, or flips you off. That way, you won’t have to come up with the perfect response in the heat of the moment. You will have practiced.
  • Heed the first sign. Notice your first physiological sign of getting upset so you can stop it before it spirals out of control. For example, perhaps it’s your cheeks getting warm. At that point, maybe a deep breath is enough to keep you calm enough.
  • Read The Daily Stoic. There's a good book, The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living. Make a ritual of, every morning, reading one of its meditations. It’ll just take a minute. Then take 30 seconds to think about how you might apply it to your life.

C:  This all makes a lot of sense. I really appreciate it.

Marty Nemko’s bio is in Wikipedia.  His newest book, his 8th, is The Best of Marty Nemko.