We’ve all experienced that feeling of intense irritation that builds into frustration, which builds into anger. Whether it’s on the highway, when the slow driver in the left lane won’t get out of the way; or maybe it’s when a co-worker takes up our valuable time talking about his problems when you’re trying to make a deadline or wrap up for the day. Anger can easily rise up during a conversation when the other person won’t stop talking long enough to hear your point of view. At times, we all could use a little help deflating our anger.
In cases like this, I have a secret weapon. It’s a question I ask myself that instantly defuses the ticking time bomb in my brain. It soothes me and allows me to consciously choose a reaction that won’t escalate the situation. That question is: “In what way is this behavior true about me, too?”
Here’s an example. I’m a peppy driver, so I pretty much live in the left lane – the passing lane. One day I was driving the Turnpike and I caught up with someone who wasn’t moving quite as fast as me. They were in my favorite lane, refusing to move over so I could pass. Eventually, I moved to the right lane, but so did they. When I moved back into the left lane to pass, they also moved back over to the left lane. I could feel myself getting more and more annoyed as I witnessed the recklessness of the other driver who, in my inner story, I felt was taunting me.
Then I pulled out my secret weapon. I asked myself, “In what way is that person’s driving behavior true of me?” Instantly I realized that to the other people on the road with us, I looked reckless. Switching lanes back and forth. Speeding up. Slowing down. To them, my driving behavior looked just as bad as that of the person I wanted to pass.
Immediately, I calmed down. My anxiety and frustration waned, and I just relaxed into a situation I couldn’t control.
Similar to walking in another’s shoes, asking myself this question allows me access to information that I’m blind to when my emotions are running high. It helps me quickly put the situation into perspective. Almost instantly, a wave of acceptance comes over me. I’m able to respond constructively, or in this case, drive more safely.
The next time you feel the heat rising and your body tensing because of someone else’s actions, try using my secret weapon. It’s an effective way to calm yourself, and a great way to consciously choose to behave with emotional intelligence.