When I was 14 I punched a wall and split my knuckle open. I was angry.
I’ve always had a short temper.
Being quick to anger has been something I’ve struggled to contain as long as I can remember.
Anger, stress and the ensuing irritability can warp you into a negative, volatile person you don’t want to be.
So I want to share with you what I’ve done to become a more relaxed, and positive version of myself. Someone who has learned not to lash out and say regretful things when he feels angry, someone who can usually listen to his anger and not let it engulf him.
Nowadays, life has to really be kicking the shit out of me before I get irritable and want to complain about things that don’t matter. So, still work to be done in this area. However, I’m quite proud of how I’ve learned to conduct myself (most of the time).
It’s still an ongoing battle because some situations are simply much more challenging than others. However, I’m proud of how I’ve learned to manage my anger. And not by suppressing it. In fact, I think being conditioned to suppress emotions is one of the main contributors to this issue to begin with. But we’ll get into that more later.
So I want to give you the tools that have helped me ultimately get to this place where I’m not walking around like a giant rage ball ready to burst at the slightest annoyance.
Because I believe this plays not only into physical health, but the reasons people pursue improved physical health to begin with: to feel more like the person they want to be.
The following is what has worked for me. This isn’t a scientific, research based take on this stuff. While some of the tactics I’ve used have research to back them up, this is ultimately a personal, anecdotal experience. And I hope you can take something from this that will help you out in your own life.
So here we go.
Make it a mission
This isn’t going to happen on accident. It must be an ongoing priority.
Everyone has battles they’ll fight their whole life. For me this is one of them. I’m assuming it is for you as well.
Keeping your anger in check is like tidying up. You don’t just clean the house once and then you’re done with it forever. It’s something that requires constant attentio. Otherwise, things quickly get out of control. The longer you neglect cleaning, the harder and harder it is to manage once you do decide to finally put the house in order. In other words, the longer you put it off the more out of control things get and the harder it is to reign it back.
Life will constantly throw you out of balance. Your job is to refind your footing. Until you get thrown off balance again. It’s just the nature of things.
So you have to make it a mission to work on this stuff. You have to make it a practice. You won’t ever conquer it entirely. It’s an ongoing, daily pursuit. Just like cleaning.
Make a strong commitment
When you’re angry and annoyed it’s easy to give in to it. Because it feels justified.
Maybe some guy isn’t looking where he’s going, bumps into, and doesn’t even say sorry. What a fucking asshole.
Maybe there’s loads of traffic because people don’t know how to fucking drive.
Maybe somebody at work took credit for something you did. What a entitled prick.
Any of these things can quickly trigger a rapid spiral into rage.
But what if it didn’t matter whether the anger was justified or not?
What if you could acknowledge you didn’t agree with something without letting it consume you?
This was an experiment I did last year when I was going through a particularly tough spat of anger issues. I decided to write in my journal every night that the next day I wouldn’t get angry NO MATTER WHAT (I wrote it in all caps for emphasis).
Most of the time, at least.
Like I said, this is an ongoing battle and there will be slip ups.
Cool thing about this tactic was that it didn’t matter whether I was right or wrong. In retrospect, I realize this worked so effectively because I had been actively looking for things to be angry about. And if that’s the case, you’ll always find something to be pissed off at. It’s absurdly easy to justify your behavior and consequently to give in to whatever rash actions it urges you to do.
The “no matter what” tactic made things simple. I didn’t really have to decide whether it was worth getting angry about or not. I already had decided that it wasn’t. No matter what the situation.
Being all ragey isn’t who I want to be. I want to be someone who can take things in stride. Someone who assumes people have good intent and acts kindly even when I don’t feel like it. To be able to remain unrattled, logical, and acting in line with my principles regardless of the situation. The phrase “no matter what” came to embody this motivation.
It made a clear line about how I wanted to act. So long as I remembered that phrase “no matter”, I was able to remain focused and self aware enough to not find excuses for getting pissed off at things.
So make some sort of commitment that you’ll put in the mental legwork to figure out:
- Why you get angry at things
- How you can keep yourself grounded
- How you’d rather be as a person.
Start resistance training
This is one I got from my online coaching clients. I’ve always used physical activity, be it martial arts, skateboarding, or lifting, as an outlet for my emotions. because that’s always been my normal, I didn’t really think about how beneficial it was in this contenxt until I saw how lifting contributed to my clients emotional wellbeing.
I’ve had online clients who, after about a month of consistently hitting the gym, found themselves feeling lighter, less irritable, more confident, better humored, and more stable. Which is a pretty amazing result.
Now, there are probably other types of exercise that can have this same effect, but I’m biased towards lifting because :
- It’s awesome
- It’s super clear when you’ve made progress which boosts confidence.
- It’s the most efficient route for most fat loss and fitness goals.
- Focusing during an exercise can be meditative.
- It’s awesome.
Start going to the gym regularly, not just for the physical benefits, but for the mental and emotional ones as well.
And if you want to start lifting but feel like you don’t know what you’re doing, and are worried about getting hurt, I can help you feel more confident in the gym. Just fill out this short form to apply for a free online coaching consult call. If it seems like we’d be a good fit I’ll reach out to you within 48 hours.
Accept that anger is normal. Listen to what it’s telling you.
Emotions aren’t really good or bad. It’s normal and healthy to experience the full range of emotions.
But if you’ve struggled with anger/irritability problems it can feel like anger is a bad thing, especially if it’s made you do/say things you regret.
But there is a place for anger in the emotional spectrum.
As there is a place for happiness, sadness, and everything else.
Plus, anger can be helpful. Most, if not all, of the social progress made wouldn’t have been possible without anger. But then again, anger can also be used as a tool of oppression (many white people were extremely angry during Colin Kaepernick’s protests). Point here being that emotions aren’t inherently good or bad.
The problem then is when you become flooded with anger and lose sight of what’s important to you. Because when that happens, all that’s important is whatever is going to satisfy your anger. This is the anger spiral.
When you’re in it, it’s hard to see any way out of it. But it is possible. You just have to remember your commitment and what’s important to you.
Maybe there is some phrase that serves as a concrete reminder of your priorities, which makes you snap out of the anger spiral long enough to talk yourself down and do some introspection.
For me, this was “no matter what”, but for you maybe it’ll be something different. The idea is, don’t just swallow your anger and try and suppress it. It’s only going to boil over later. Instead, listen to what your anger is telling you.
What emotional need is’t being met? What things make you angry?
Often, at its core, anger is caused by some value of yours being violated. So thinking about what makes you angry can actually be a really useful exercise in articulating your values, principles, and how you want to live.
And then other times, it’s just ego and entitlement. This is also important to listen to. There are times where I’ve been angry because I felt a value was being acted against. And other times I just wasn’t getting what I wanted. (For more on ego, I highly recommend Ryan Holiday’s Ego is the Enemy.)
Ask yourself: What am I missing here?
Intense anger feels like tunnel vision. You can only see the perspective you choose to see.
This is why it’s so harmful and difficult to deal with. You don’t want to see things any other way. But the simple question of, “What am I missing by being like this?” can push back the walls that are closing in. It can help you break free from the intense cognitive bias that just makes you look for things to feed your anger.
- Are you missing out on time you could be bonding with your significant other?
- Are you missing out on an opportunity that’s in front of you?
- Are you missing out on feeling empowered?
- Are you missing out on feeling grateful for something?
It could be anything.
There are multiple ways to view any situation. Don’t limit yourself to just one perspective. Ask yourself what your anger is clouding you from seeing. And yes, I know that sounds like Yoda. I’m ok with that.
I hope I’ve provided some perspective and tools you can use to help you have a better quality of daily life. Because it gets pretty miserable and exhausting being angry all the time.
It’s no way to live.
Sometimes it even gets in the way of solving the problems you’re getting angry about. Other times it prevents you from being kind and compassionate to the people you care about.
Time is the only resource you can’t get back. And I regret spending so much of my time being angry and annoyed at things that don’t matter. So I hope you can learn from my mistakes.