Anger Management 101

In this article, we discuss controlling your anger - the hardest habit of all.

It isn't personal

"How much more grievous are the consequences of anger than the causes of it"#."

Marcus Aurelius

The great MA hit on something so insightful, and so important there.

When you think of when you are angry; how it makes you behave, and how this behaviour makes others feel; the relationships it damages, personally and professionally; the impact this then has on your reputation, your career, your life; and then compare this to the event which initially caused the anger.

Most of the time, the event will have been innocent - ie, whatever upset it caused, it was not intended to be harmful. Whoever did it, was more than likely acting based on some assumptions, which may or may not have been wrong; through stupidity or lack of information; or most likely, because their framing is different to yours. They have different constraints, different need and motivations. And their perception of the impact of their actions is likely different to yours. They probably didn't imagine the harm they may be causing.

Then there is the actual seriousness of the transgression. Are we so angry because whatever was done was really so bad?

Two other quotes are very useful here:

"Never blame on conspiracy that which can be explained by incompetence"


"Things do not happen to you; they just happen"


That is to say, things that grievously offend us are very likely done through ignorance rather than malice, and we take things too personally - the line in the shop isn't extra long today because we're in a hurry. It just was. We're not important enough for the universe - or anyone else - to be out to get us.

What this then swiftly leads to is our state of mind. We naturally over-interpret events, likely due to some caveman programming for self-preservation, causing us to relate more of an event to ourselves than is warranted in reality.

Lastly, it is worth noting that when we overreact and do damage, the main loser is normally us. We are the ones distracted with rage for the next 3 hours; we are the ones that end up disliked or even hated; we are the ones that get mocked for an explosion and taken less seriously later. We are the ones that say things we shouldn't, reveal information we shouldn't, and generally end up regretful and remorseful after the fact. This is because we blew up.

So to summarise - the problem is that we take things too personally, and the emotional response causes more damage than was originally caused to us. We lose, the world loses.

If that's the problem, what's the solution?

Anger Management Protocol

Like anything else in your cyborg journey, the answer is a process. Here is what to do next time you feel yourself getting angry.

This process is tricky to implement, because the risk is that you get angry so fast and explode, before you get the chance to think and implement this system.

Nevertheless, work on it, and it will become a habit. It will just take a few tries.

  1. Walk Away - This is the hardest and most important step. Why? Because this step is designed to manage the monkey mind. That is, to give you the space to let your rational mind take over and drive everything that follows. This step is where you'll likely fail at first; and it is the most crucial to train. Get this right, and you're golden. All you have to do is be able to go somewhere where you won't get provoked into an impulsive reaction. Disengage from the situation; and move to a quiet space. Here you can breathe, and even if you are seething, there is nobody to attack.

  2. Stoic Reframe - The stoics have a method of reframing situations into their literal bare bones. For example, this "delicious steak dinner" can be reframed as a "piece of a dead cow, some bits of potato and some squeezed grape". The event is the same; but stoically reframing has boiled it down to "first principles", and crucially, has taken the emotion and subjectivity out of it. So, you're angry because your boss was rude to you in front of your team? A man spoke loudly and people heard. Your young son knocked the table over with the entire dinner smashing on the floor? A child walked and gravity happened. Doing this allows you to then build up, and reinterpret the event in a proportionate way. You may still be angry; but you won't overreact.

  3. Tame Language - The words you use are important. Words are an amplifier or a dampener. Telling yourself "my boss humiliated me" will cause a different emotional response than "my boss wasn't the best to me today". Doing this again and again, when you tell the story to others, when you talk to yourself, will compound strongly one way or the other, into a very calm or very stormy emotional state.

  4. Assess - Now you're back in proportion; ask yourself. Is this anger coming from you, or the event? Is this more about something you need? What is really going on? For example, your boss told you off publicly; but are you really angry because you're already insecure about your performance? Is it because you're already insecure about people's perception of you? Is it that you had a row with your husband this morning and are emotionally delicate? This is your opportunity to stop, step back, observe and reflect, such that you reach the most likely true interpretation of what you're feeling and why.

  5. Key Constraints - Now, remember the two golden rules of getting angry. First; protect your relationships. Ultimately in life your relationships with others are of the most important drivers of your happiness and success. At this moment, make sure that whatever you do doesn't cause unnecessary damage. Second, control the information. When we're upset, the tendency is to talk. To express what we feel, why, recount what was done and how we took it. But doing this reveals a lot about you, and tells you nothing about the other person's position. Imagine you are in your boss' office, and have just been denied a promotion. You could sound off, inadvertently revealing that you've been unhappy with him forever, that you think he isn't a good manager and that you've been considering transferring to another department for a while; or, you can extract information from him - what he thinks of you, how he rates your abilities, whether he favours the guy that sits next to you, what his vision and intentions are for your business. The point isn't to be unduly secretive - you may want to tell him you're looking for other jobs - you just need to be deliberate, revealing the information you want to be revealed, and collecting the information you need to collect. Make sure you are acting with intent, rather than letting emotion drive a random result.

  6. Plan - Now you've evaluated and processed, you know what it all means and what you want to achieve going forward. At this point, you plan your interaction - how you'll respond, who to, what you'll say, what you'll do.

  7. Positive - Lastly, remember to find the positive in this event. Almost always, there are positives to be drawn from these situations - you learnt something new; you got to exercise self-control; you managed to strengthen a relationship through self-control; something important is now out ion the open.

This is how you manage your anger, such that a potentially damaging event becomes a constructive one. Note, you're not denying to yourself the right to be angry - maybe that's what you decide to do - you're just removing the randomness from the process, and introducing deliberate, calm, controlled responses.