Every morning i wake up, since the beginning of the year, I’ve been reading from “the Daily Stoic” by Ryan Holiday. It has been a useful way to begin each day with a thought, quote, or idea that I can attempt to carry with me throughout the day and give me something to chew on & think about.
February’s running theme and focus has been on “passions and emotions,” two things i’ve never been short on. Perhaps the easiest way to see my emotions get the best of me is when I’m playing sports. Sometimes my tunnel vision in the competition for a W is so intense that I completely forget about my manners, and i say or do things i regret later. Or perhaps it is when I’m driving and I have to endure the insufferability of hapless, oblivious drivers with no respect for concepts like flow of traffic, or merging appropriately, or focusing on the road instead of one’s mobile device. All of these things get me quite worked up. But obviously these minor things are indicative of a greater battle I have been fighting most of my adult life with managing anger. I’ve gotten better in the last couple years, but anger is a devil that one never completely vanquishes once it has a hook into your emotions.
One thing I’ve noticed lately in particular is that little inconsequential things have been getting to me. Like not even anything worth speaking of. So small, I can’t even articulate a proper example accurately. It might be something like my phone taking an extra couple of seconds to execute whatever command i’ve just issued it. Or missing a yellow light when I’m not even in a hurry to be anywhere. But these little things happen, my blood pressure faintly and momentarily spikes, and I inexcusably might let a quick, unnecessary obscenity fly. There’s no reason for it, and it means nothing, but for half a moment, a mild form of tourette’s appears to take over, and the anger monster makes a brief appearance before disappearing back into its prison cell of domestication.
By most accounts, this seems like a victimless crime. There’s usually no one around, and the moment passes and I move on. But I can’t let go of why I allow this to happen. Perhaps it’s just a side effect of how hard I’ve been focusing on getting back into shape with extreme diet and exercise (seriously, I’ve never worked as hard in my life at watching what i eat and working my ass off in the gym as i have in the last 45 days), and moments of low blood sugar yielding short bouts of “hangry” are breaking through like some sort of micro seizure. Or maybe I’ve just been experiencing moments of weakness a little more frequently lately.
When the calendar flipped to February, I was both wary and excited to see that “Emotions” would be a theme. Excited, because i relished the chance to focus on improvement, and wary because growth is rarely comfortable. I am enthused by the opportunity to turn a weakness into a strength, but aware that such a mission will be painful.
Just two days ago, the topic for the day was “Did that make you feel better?” …Rather than recap it, I’ll just quote directly:
“The next time someone gets upset near you — crying, yelling, breaking something, being pointed or cruel — watch how quickly this statement will stop them cold: “I hope this is making you feel better.” Because, of course, it isn’t.”
On my first thought after reading this, the theatre of my mind played this scenario out and I laughed out loud at how much worse saying something like this would likely make things. But on the 2nd reading, I felt shame. Shame of the knowledge that this piece was specifically for people like me. Why? Because a logical examination of this behavior yields only one result: that losing your cool simply does not accomplish anything. And if it does not accomplish anything, why should it make one feel any better? If I look back, I can’t say that behaving badly has ever made me feel better. In point of fact, it has always led me to regret something.
But the best part of this learning process is the strategies and tactics for improvement you gain when doing the work, and for this topic, the latter half of the writing suggested the following:
“The next time you find yourself in the middle of a freakout… just ask: is this actually making me feel better?”
The answer will undoubtedly be “no.” I won’t feel any better in that moment. And the shame won’t suddenly evaporate. But I will be using this new tool, this strategy to improve. And I’ll suddenly be aware. And I’ll be doing the work. And that will make me feel a little better.