“Do you have the patience to wait till your mud settles and the water is clear? Can you remain unmoving till the right action arises by itself?”
– Lao Tzu
“The greatest remedy for anger is delay”
(Update: I simplified the following approach into the 4 Ms method.)
Can you live up to your standards?
One of my core values is peace. To my idealistic mind it must be possible to act calmly even when we don’t feel peaceful.
We can know wise things and see their value, but when it’s time to act while upset, we forget the lovely quotes that flood the internet. The rational mind goes down the drain and emotions turn us into cavemen.
I often snap at my kids when they’re stubborn or demanding. This doesn’t solve anything, it only adds fuel to the fire. Result? Less peace!
When the situation has resolved, I’m left with regret. I worry about the bad example I’ve set for my kids. Now that I’m no longer angry, I can see better ways I could have acted.
Emergency management for dummies
If the mind is of no use during difficult emotions, we need an emergency strategy ready before they occur.
- This strategy must be very easy to remember, because at the time we need it, our I.Q.’s will have dropped considerably.
- This strategy needs to be practiced a lot, because it has to become automatic and available to our lizard brain when it has taken over.
- This strategy needs to be empathic, to yourself and everyone involved. It’s not about denying emotions, it’s about seeing them for what they are: alarm bells.
When you feel a difficult emotion arise, treat it like an alarm bell that reminds you what to do:
Stop what you’re doing. Empty your hands, fold them together or place them on your thighs, sides … Single-tasking is key. Give the new situation your full attention.
Stay silent. Close your mouth. Relax your jaw. Curl the tip of your tongue backwards behind your sealed lips. (That’s more pleasant than biting your tongue.)
- Observe your body: How does the emotion feel in the body? What sensations are there? Tingles, stings, heat, tension … ? Where? How does it change?
- Observe your mind: Don’t take its stories seriously. Practice your favorite meditative approach. I like to observe and ask: “Who does this?”. (I’ll elaborate in a future post.)
- Observe your ‘opponent’: Find a positive aspect to focus on. You can remind yourself you actually love them, even though right now they’re being a real pain. This too shall pass.
Keep observing. Wait until your emotions settle. When the situation resolves itself, enjoy it. No need to turn it into a story. Congratulate yourself. Focus on the love you have for your ‘opponent’. When the game is still on, but now you’re calm enough to act: move slowly, speak softly, use as few words as possible. Often just “no” or “stop” will do. How much pain are your thoughts, words or actions causing? If people ask why you’re not saying or doing anything, just tell them the truth: “I’m waiting for inspiration.” If emotions flare up again, think: “It’s S.H.O.W.time!” and go back to step 1.
If you totally and utterly fail at all of this: Stop, Hush, Observe, Wait. 🙂
Start small, practice often
Repeat your mantra many times during the day: “Stop, Hush, Observe, Wait”
Practice the strategy whenever you anticipate or feel even the slightest hint of a difficult emotion. Don’t wait for a big conflict to start using it.
When your train is delayed: it’s showtime! When your computer irritates you: it’s showtime! When you hear impatience in your own voice: it’s showtime! When a colleague starts to nag: it’s showtime! When your kids get out of bed for the 248th time: you’ll be prepared!
Now go add this habit on Lift.
Good luck! You’ll probably need it! 🙂
(Dutch text here)
(Update: I simplified this approach into the 4 Ms method)