It happens, people lose their temper. Oh, yes, there are a few people in the world who manage to maintain that Buddhist-type calmness we’ve occasionally seen on the television and movie screen. But most people do not live in emotional vacuums. We are humans. We move across a very long line of emotional ups and downs throughout our lives.
Temper malfunctions are caused by such a wide variety of triggers that it would be nearly impossible to list even half of the things that make people snap out of character. I, for instance, find myself close to Incredible Hulk-like rage whenever I am waiting in a checkout line behind someone who decides the most ideal time for a cell phone conversation is while the cashier is seeking payment for goods received. So I am not only subjected to a longer wait for my ability to get on with my life, I am forced to listen to some guy tell his friend about the new fantasy football player he just drafted.
And just like there are a number of ways to lose your temper, there are also a lot of ways to keep from losing one’s cool. My mother used to tell me to count to ten, but all that did was make me count louder and harder with each increasing digit, and then run after my sisters in a fit of rage when I got to ten. I used that method as a countdown to destruction, and that usually resulted in my parents returning the favor with a bit of tough love on my derriere.
See, I believe the purpose of the counting was to take away the person’s ability to concentrate on the anger. It doesn’t work. But I found something that really does help me see past the temper altering offenses or situations I find myself locked in. I think about the future. When someone cuts me off in traffic, I remind myself that two miles down the road this person will probably not be within eyesight. I need only concentrate on that future happiness, and the anger begins to dissipate.
If we can immediately switch our focus to a positive event that is in our near future instead of focusing on the present mental assault we feel we are experiencing, we begin to see the big picture; we feel more in control because we know that future “good” event is usually something we have planned or always do. Our mind begins to remember that this out of control situation is temporary. It is not easy to do, but it does help.
The other day, I was at a Major League Soccer game. I went to get two hot dogs for me and my wife. I waited in line for twenty minutes, missing some really awesome action that I could barely see on a small-screen monitor nearby, only to find out that the concession stand was completely out of hot dogs. This wouldn’t have been such a big problem, except this particular stand advertised hot dogs as their main menu item, and they had been out of hot dogs the whole time I was waiting in line. To add fuel to the fire, the second I started to walk away, carrying my stale popcorn and flat diet cokes, the woman announced to the people who had been in line behind me that the hot dogs had just come off the grill and a few were ready for sale.
Now I wish I could say that my anger buttons hadn’t been speed-dialed, but that would be an outright lie. I was ready to run up to Information desk and ask to see the owners of the stadium and soccer team. They needed to know about the trauma I had just suffered through. But then I remembered that I had fourth-row seats, very close to midfield line. I thought about how much fun the rest of the game would be. I even pictured the home team scoring a goal or two. And my mind raced away from the saga of the missing hot dogs. I calmed down and returned to my seat without incident.
So the next time you think you’re about to lose your temper, try advancing your mental DVD-player to the next scene – a scene that better suits your calm, thinking things all the way through attitude. Don’t think it will work for you? Give it a try. What have you got to lose? Your temper…
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Very nice, Dan. I'm not a very big person, but you know what they say about dynamite and small packages. I had to learn how to refocus as well... when it dawned on me that my temper wasn't hurting a soul... except my own. I don't anger easily. I mean, there are usually good reasons for me to lose it. But losing it still doesn't change the situation. It's pretty good soul-healing to come to that point in our lives when we realize that the thing that really needs to change is... me.