I was asked a question by a participant the other day about controlling anger. She asked what she needed to do in order to stop herself from getting angry. Anger is one of those emotions which clouds our judgment quite quickly. Our amygdala in our limbic system (the emotional area of our brain) is hijacked by an emotion like anger and we find it very difficult to think straight. One of the most important things that I share with people in handling such an emotion comes down to one particular question.
This question is: what are you trying to achieve in this situation? This question is so powerful because it gets our focus to move away completely from the emotion and toward something totally different. When people try breathing differently or counting to ten, sometimes it works but often it doesn’t. The reason that it doesn’t is that they are still focusing on the anger itself and ‘how they can stop it’. Furthermore, they are potentially ignoring the message or signal that feeling anger is sending.
When we feel anger, it is our body’s way of sending us a message that something is not right. It is important that we don’t ignore these messages as, when we do, we find ourselves making the same mistakes over and over again.
By asking yourself what you want, your brain then has to incorporate the message the anger is trying to send into helping you to achieve whatever the goal is. By staying goal orientated, it means you are far less likely to act irrationally and potentially cause negative consequences that might cause you issues down the line. You are far more likely to act in a way that serves your best interests.
Furthermore, you are actively re-prioritising your actions on the spot. If you are in an argument with someone and a fire breaks out in the room you are both in, you will both stop arguing and run for the door. This is because something more important takes over and gets you focused on a more important goal for survival. By focusing on a new goal, your brain will only pay attention to what you were angry about if it serves to help you achieve this new goal.
So, next time something gets to you, remember to ask what do you want and you will find yourself more likely to stay in control.