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anger

Reactivity – Don’t Let Your Automatic Actions Control You

In this world of over-stimulation, my nature is reactive. It always has been, even before we had so much visual input and interruptions in our lives my first instinct was always to lash out before I stopped to consider. It begins inside, like a spark which triggers an instant movement, thought or feeling which is usually, immediately followed by an action with no thought. There is no space between the trigger and the reaction.

This space is important. There is great power in this space. Imagine the great tragedies which could have been prevented if people stopped to think instead of reacting immediately?

Quick action does indeed have a place in the world but so does thought and deliberateness.

How do we go from trigger-feeling-reaction to trigger-feeling-pause / think-reaction? We need to create and cultivate space to allow it to expand, grow and develop.

It’s just like decluttering your desk or tidying your home. It can be achieved in different ways but the end goal is to give your mind space to sit down and think about what to do next.

And just like decluttering your home or your desk, take the time to notice the work that needs to be done. Where is the clutter?

Let everything settle and listen to yourself. You will soon see where the issues are, where the cleanup work needs to start. It is like taking all the obsolete information off your computer’s hard drive. What burdens do you need to carry and what can you put to one side or drop completely?

I sometimes find it useful to just sit with my thoughts, almost like the opposite of meditation, I set a timer and sit. I do not allow myself to move or interact with anything but let my mind wander. I let it go where it goes and interact with the thoughts as much as I wish. It helps me see where my worries are and where the internal housekeeping is needed. This can show up in the form of unfinished tasks, worries which have been weighing on my mind or someone I need to contact. The best way to clear them away is to act on them, immediately. If that’s not possible, then schedule a time. This will help create the space.

I will not go into meditation on this blog as we have both written on it before but I cannot recommend it enough. It has changed my life and helped create the space I need for calm, consideration and right action. Have a look at the bottom of the post for some blogs we have written on meditation.

Just like the unfinished tasks I mentioned, unhealthy habits will fill space also. Too much screen time, too much artificial stimulation, bad diet. When I talk about filling the space, I do not mean taking up your time, your time is important but what I mean is bad habits taking up space in your mind. Filling your quiet space with additional unimportant information or data which cannot be cleared out without deliberate action.

It is when we reach a point of no capacity that we no longer have the objectivity to stop and analyze.

We all have bad thoughts (at least I hope I’m not the only one) whether it be anger towards a stranger, judgement towards someone we know nothing about based on their appearance, impatience, selfishness or whatever arises at the time.

These thoughts do not define who we are. It is what we do with these thoughts that defines us. It is how we react and act on our thoughts and impulses that shows who we are as people. We can only be judged by our actions. Someone cuts me off in traffic and I have an urge to honk and pull up alongside them to extend the all useful middle finger and wave it in their direction.

The impulse is there, but so is the choice. I have the choice of whether to act on that impulse or not. If I do not have that space or use that space, I will not make that choice, I will simply keep going and do what automatically happens. I will become a slave to my automatic self.

I am still a victim of my own reactivity, I recently tore one of my favourite hoodies apart just because I did not pause and consider. Incidents like this happen much, much less now but what this shows me is that I still have to work on creating, maintaining, seeing and using that space. You can read my blog on my anger issues if you are interested.

Working on creating this space allows me to take the time and pause before I react. The reaction can be intentional rather than automatic. The feeling, impulse or thought will pass quickly, within a couple of minutes then it will be forgotten but if I act on it I will carry it with me.

Here are a few simple tips to cultivate, maintain and use that space. I hope it helps.

  • Spend time with your thoughts. Search for what needs to be cleared out.
  • Meditate daily to cultivate and maintain the space.
  • Use the space: Stop and examine the feeling or impulse. Think.

Let me know if you have any feedback or if you find yourself in a similar situation to me.

Peace,

George

 

Links:

How can we put down the burdens we carry?

meditation-challenge-40-day-sadhana-your-habits-define-you

a-daily-meditation-practice-make-it-work-for-you

meditation-it-takes-two-minutes

how-i-overcame-my-anger-issues

 

 

 

 

Cover photo by Javardh on Unsplash

Photo by Jez Timms on Unsplash

Photo by Samantha Gades on Unsplash

Photo by Simon Migaj on Unsplash

Photo by Keegan Houser on Unsplash

How I Overcame My Anger Issues

When I was a small boy I was always considered to be a little bit irritable. I was particular and meticulous and very detailed orientated. Maybe this played a part in the tendency toward annoyance or lack of tolerance towards things not working out.

As I grew older I was more interested in books and small toys than soccer or being outside. It’s funny now, though I still love to read and I still love toys I live for the outdoors. The outdoors changed me.

I’m not sure when my bad temper developed, maybe it was always there but it grew more intense. I was never unhappy child, nothing in my life contributed towards it, I think that some people need to work on their reactions more than others.

I have never been in a fist fight in my entire life, I am not a violent man but there is a destructive nature inside me. As I write this I try to remember when I first noticed it or when it first became a problem. The earliest I can remember breaking something through anger was probably when I was in my twenties.

I am sure that an immature disrespect for other peoples property played a part also but it followed through my twenties and into my mid thirties until I finally realized I had to do something about it.

The anger I felt never interfered with my life or my relationships but I know now through research the effect that intense anger has on both the body and the brain.

The emotions I felt were not simply anger or irritation but rage. A rage which would build up to an uncontrollable level where I could not hold my reaction. It was blind and uncontrollable, like a drug in my veins.

It took a long trail of little broken items before I realized it was effecting my mental health through the stress it laid on me.

It is difficult to describe the hold the rage took on me. From my perspective I went from zero to ten (on an anger scale) immediately with no warning. In all reality it was building and I was too distracted to see it. The pressure built until it could no longer be contained and I reacted physically by breaking something.

There is a misled idea out there that it is macho to lose ones temper and that someone who smashes things is someone you don’t mess with. If you met me you would realize this is not the case but on a serious note, we cannot associate losing control with strength. It is a weakness, in fact it is probably one of the weakest acts one can commit.

In my angry outbursts I put my fist through several windows, doors, laptop screens, smart phones, I once cracked a car windshield. I mention these because I want to be honest. It will seem funny to some people and pathetic to others but the simple fact is that losing control is and act of weakness brought on by lack of awareness and mismanagement of my emotions.

It wasn’t just the outburst or having to buy a new phone or laptop screen or door or whatever it happened to be this time, it was the low I would feel afterwards. What comes up must come down. The low was every bit as extreme as the high of the intense rage. A great sadness that would swallow me up.

It was maybe four or five years ago when I went to see a professional about my anger issues. It wasn’t a particularly difficult step for me and to be honest I don’t think I took it seriously, but never the less I went through my own choice without suggestion or coercion.

The funny thing is that, for me the answer was so much simpler. The professional I spoke to encouraged me to make the visits a part of my ongoing lifestyle but I did not keep it up.

I believe every situation is unique and I am writing about my own experience only. My opinions on my own therapy sessions do not bear any weight on the experience in general or the importance of seeking help.

In my own particular case I eventually realized that the solution was there all along, within my grasp, ready for me to take hold of. I just couldn’t see it.

I do not remember exactly where and when I put the following practises in place, I believe it was a gradual process but the simple practises I will talk about changed my mindset and in doing so changed my life.

Journalling and reflection:

For some years I have been keeping a diary, inspired by my father I think who religiously writes about his day in his spidery writing, documenting his days.

I like to document my day and read back through it sometimes, but it is also important to offload everything onto paper, your thoughts, your dreams, your worries, your feelings.

Now, I understand again the macho attitude that writing in journals is not how a man deals with things. This is the bullshit attitute we need to make a thing of the past. Times are changing and, we as a race are waking up to what we need.

If I did not incorporate these measures I would be out of shape, stressed out, unhappy and unhealthy.

Exercise:

Movement is so important. I sit at a desk for most of the day, but even if you have a reasonably active job the important thing here is to get the heart rate up.

Vigorous exercise produces brain chemicals which are proven to make us happier.

Cut out negative people:

Life is too short to deal with negative attitudes. Negative talk effects our brains. How can you remain positive if you are not receiving positive vibes and energy.

This sounds callous, but to be honest, so what? We are not users who hang around with people just to gain something, but conversely, we do not have to tolerate people in our lives who offer nothing positive and negatively effect us.

Get away from a negative environment:

My work environment was stressful. It was only in hindsight that I realized I did not enjoy my job and that it was chipping away at me bit by bit every day. It is hard to make a change when you do not realize the change needs to be made, but deep down I knew and eventually it surfaced, and I became receptive to moving on.

It was when I opened up to the possibility that the opportunity presented itself.

Gratitude:

I listened to a TedTALK where a Fransiscan monk spoke about the merits of gratitude and that it is the path to hapiness.

This may seem unrealistic. If you think so just try it out for a week. Write down three things you are grateful for everyday and see how it feels.

Smile:

Again, this may seem like it can’t make a real overall difference but it does. Smile, even if you don’t feel like it, just fake it. The happy chemicals will come flooding straight in like a whole bunch of happy drugs.

Have a read of my blog on the effects of smiling.

Eat healthy:

You are what you eat. Garbage in, garbage out. Be smart with your food choices. I ate crap for about 28 years of my life, actually it was when Theresa and I moved in together that my diet changed. I wonder why?

Yoga:

Yoga saved me. It was through yoga that I found so many other practises like meditation and really looking inwards to see myself. It also brings so much focus to the breath which I think is the most important aspect of our lives.

Fresh air:

There is no better medicine than clean fresh air. I have not been sick in years, but I remember heading up into the fresh winter air of the north shore mountains in Vancouver and feeling all the symptoms immediately disappear once I got out into the crisp clean air.

It has the same effect on the mind, cleaning out any crap which is clogged up in there, whether it be thoughts, emotions or just general junk.

Be positive:

Negative self talk will literally kill you, eventually. You cannot change your self talk until you start to listen to it and for that you need space and silence which brings me onto my next topic.

Meditation:

In my opinion everybody needs to meditate. It should be thought in schools and encouraged in the work place. My daughter will be brought up with meditation being part of her life like brushing her teeth or washing her hands, a part of daily life.

I cannot stress the importance meditation enough. A friend of mine once told me he wasn’t a meditation kind of guy. I had suggested it when he spoke about his many stresses. It seemed better to remain stressed out rather than do something about it.

If the body is tired or stressed we rest it. The mind is no different. We need to create space and silence in the mind so that we can see ourselves and observe our state.

I could never change my course of action when I was to wound up because I couldn’t even see the issue. I just spiralled out of control

Breath:

The breath controls everyhing. Without the breath we cannot live, we cannot move. The breath creates space both in the body and mind. It also gives us the chance to pause.

How many times have you been told to take a deep breath?

It works. Take a slow, deep breath and you take the time to pause, take stock of the situation and come away from the shallow, quick (fight or flight) breathing to a more controlled state of mind.

If one deep breath has this effect, imagine what you can do with ten deep breaths.

I have given a lot of information here, to simplify it, if I were to pick the top three things that helped me overcome my anger issues I would say:

  1. Exercise (yoga and hiking)
  2. Fresh air
  3. Meditation

So after all that, where am I now? It is about four years since I have started to take yoga and meditation seriously.

Maybe I lie in the title when I say I overcame my anger issues. The anger surfaces from time to time, though far less often than it used to. It probably always will, but the difference is that now I can see where I am at.

I am aware of what is happening and I am aware of what I can do to take myself out of the situation or deal with it in a calm manner.

I think I am healthier (physically and mentally) now than I ever have been in my entire life.

It takes effort, it is something I will work on for the rest of my life but the only effort is in being consistent, it is in remembering to be kind to yourself and in knowing that you will slip up sometimes but that there is a way to calm the rough seas and let everything become still.

There is a way to slow down and stop you just have to give yourself the space to see that.

Peace,

George

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