Over the past several years, there’s a way of being that I’ve gradually been cultivating in myself – I’ve been taming my tendency to overreact and argue with people when their behavior doesn’t match my expectations.
As human beings, we all have an idea in our heads about how things are supposed to be, and sadly this is what often messes our relationships up the most. We all get frustrated when things don’t play out the way we expect them to, and people don’t behave like they’re “supposed” to. We expect our spouses and children to act a certain way, our friends to always agree with us, strangers to be less difficult, and so on and so forth.
And when reality hits us, and everyone seems to be doing the opposite of what we want them to do, we overreact – frustration, stress, arguments, tears, etc.
So what can we do about this?
When you feel like your lid is about to blow, take a long, deep breath. Deep breathing releases tension, calms down our fight or flight reactions, and allows us to quiet our anxious nerves and choose more considerate and constructive responses.
So, for example, do your best to take a deep breath next time another driver cuts you off in traffic. In a recent poll we hosted with our course students, overreacting while fighting traffic was the most commonly cited reason for overreacting. Just imagine if all the drivers on the road took deep breaths before making nasty hand gestures, or screaming obscenities at others.
There’s no doubt that it can drive us crazy when we don’t get what we expect from people, especially when it’s completely out of our control. But trying to change the unchangeable, wanting others to be exactly the way we want them to be, just doesn’t work. The alternative, though, is unthinkable to most of us: to breathe, to let go, to lead by example, and to accept people even when they irritate us.
Here’s the way of being that I’ve been cultivating and advocating:
- To breathe deeply, and often.
- To remind myself that I can’t control other people.
- To remind myself that other people can handle their lives however they choose.
- To not take their behavior personally.
- To see the good in them.
- To let go of the ideals and expectations I have about others that causes unnecessary frustration, arguments, and general overreaction.
- To remember that when others are being difficult, they are often going through a difficult time I know nothing about. And to give them empathy, love, and space.
“Being” this way takes practice, but it’s worth it. It makes me less frustrated, it helps me to be more mindful, it improves my relationships, it lowers my stress, and it allows me to make the world a slightly nicer place to be. I hope you will join me.
These mantras can help us practice, together…
Mantras to Stop Overreaction and Arguments
Since, like you, I’m only human, other people’s chaotic behavior still gets an emotional rise out of me sometimes. So I’ve implemented a simple strategy to help me. In a nutshell, I proactively remind myself to take a deep breath when I need one, and to practice what I preach. Anytime I catch myself doing the opposite, I pause and read the following mantras to myself (I keep them on my iPhone). Then I take some fresh deep breaths, and begin my practice…
- Inner peace and harmony begins the moment you take a deep breath and choose not to allow another person or event to control your thoughts and emotions. (Angel and I discuss this in more detail in the “Inspiration” chapter of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
- Don’t let the silly little dramas of each day get the best of you. Be selective in your battles. Oftentimes peace is better than being right. You simply don’t need to attend every argument you are invited to.
- Most people make themselves unhappy simply by finding it impossible to accept life just as it is presenting itself right now. Breathe. Sometimes you just need to slow down, stay calm, and let things happen as they were supposed to happen – no commentary needed.
- Inhale. Exhale. A moment of silence in a moment of anger, can save you from a hundred moments of regret. Truth be told, you are often most powerful and influential in an argument when you are most silent. Others never expect silence. They expect yelling, drama, defensiveness, offensiveness, and lots of back and forth. They expect to leap into the ring and fight. They are ready to defend themselves with sly remarks cocked and loaded. But your mindful silence? That can really disarm them.
- Even when your frustration is justified, and something needs to be said, don’t be hateful – keep your heart and mind wide open. Peace is not the absence of trouble, but the presence of love. Be mindful, and communicate accordingly. (Angel and I build mindful communication rituals with our students in the “Love and Relationships” module of Getting Back to Happy.)
- It’s much easier to overreact and judge people than it is to understand them. Understanding takes extra kindness and patience. And this “extra” is what love is all about. Love is living your life… but sharing it – it’s forgiveness, patience, optimism, and sometimes it’s a hug or a smile when there’s nothing left to say.
- Keep doing your best not to overthink life’s little frustrations and disagreements. Answers come to a relaxed mind. Space allows things to fall into place. A good attitude yields the best results in the end.
Can you think of a time when taking a deep breath, and practicing some mindful reflection, saved you from overreacting and responding to someone inappropriately?
Anything else to share?
Please tell us about it. We would love to hear from YOU in the comments section below. 🙂
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Photo by: Mayur Gala
The tendency to overreact and stir drama is real and present in most of our lives, at least to a certain degree. I used to desperately struggle in this area. I would overreact when my family and friends didn’t live up to my expectations. Arguments and silent treatments resulted. Looking back on it, I created and lot of stress and drama for no good reason.
As usual, you two have shared some incredibly powerful and useful insights in this post/email! All seven mantras flow together seamlessly and I truly appreciate the undertone of being present, accepting of reality, and letting go of all the nonsensical overreaction.
Overreacting (about everything) has affected my life in two big ways:
1. I used to argue with people I loved, instead of communicating peacefully with them, when they didn’t live up to my expectations.
2) I used to focused on people’s negative qualities far more than their positive ones.
And although I’m still learning and growing in this area, I’ve made great progress with easing my tendency to overreact, complain, yell and so on. Lately I’ve been practicing the mindfulness you speak of.
This little quote from your book has been one of my guideposts for doing so — it has given me the perspective I need to make better choices when I disagree with others:
“Look, I have a really simple strategy: Why expect anything specific? If you don’t expect things to be a certain way, you don’t get disappointed with the way things are. Less expectation and more appreciation makes a day simpler and happier.”
Thanks again, for everything you share.
Marc Chernoff says
Beautiful insights! And thank you for supporting our work, Michelle.
Kevin Benson says
Excellent reminders here, M&A!
Every day I take deep breaths, and ever day it makes all the difference.
Your blog emails continue to arrive in my inbox when I need them most.
Overreacting to things is just a distraction from what matters most in life. It’s a distraction from making the best of what’s we’ve got. Like Michelle above, your thoughts on issues like this are making a difference in my day too day life.
After a big financial loss in our family, and a overly dramatic and prolonged argument I had with my husband regarding our loss, I found your book, blog, emails, and happiness course. And it surely didn’t happen overnight, but I’ve let go of lots of unnecessary drama in my consciousness over the past few months… and my husband and I are loving each other again.
It’s sad how overreactions combined with poor communication can literally turn us into someone we aren’t. And it’s wild how many of us let it happen. I learned the hard way that relationships can give you the most incredible and wonderful highs at times … and then there will be deep dives of drama that will take all you have just to hold on to your sanity. But the dives don’t have to be this deep when we learn to control our emotions and communicate mindfully.
Thank you for the continued support.
Marc Chernoff says
I’m glad we’ve been able to assist you on your journey, Helen. Keep stepping forward! You’re truly making incredible progress, and it shows in the depth of your recent comments and emails.
A few days ago, at a senior card playing, an 8o year old woman, just for no apparent reason said to me, “no one likes you.” I was in the middle of play.
I am now 70. I kept silent. I amazed myself with that. The others at the table said ” that’s not true.”
I thought this woman had become rather nice after not liking her for a long time.
My point is I’ve been annoyed and irritated by it. I have a temper but was proud I didn’t respond to such a childish remark.
I’m trying to learn how to rid myself of anger when something like this happens.
Lately I’ve noticed my tendency to be terribly angry at people with crying children in stores. It seems like every store I go into, there is a crying, screaming child whose parent appears to be completely oblivious and unperturbed by its screaming. I was in one store for over half an hour last week while a kid screamed his brains out and the mother shopped in blissful oblivion.
I allowed this to ruin my shopping experience and I made comments about it to other shoppers (who mostly ignored me) and I left the store fuming. After I’d calmed down I examined my behavior and truthfully I was probably just as annoying as the kid was.
So the next time it happens I’ll try breathing deeply and sending positive vibes in the direction of the screaming, and if it gets to be too much for me I’ll leave the store and go somewhere else. I can’t re-train the world, I can only control me. I’ll try the above mantras, and see if I can find some peace among the bedlam.
Marc Chernoff says
You’ve got the right idea, Nancy. Please check back in with us and let us know how it works for you.
My six children are grown now, and when I hear kids crying and screaming i always think(with relief) ha, they’re not mine!
Perfect story to share! Pretty much everyone can identify with. Something that helped me was getting to know people with children that have special needs mentally and emotionally. They may look like they should be able to behave better or the parents should be able to control their child, but sometimes all the best laid plans do not always work out.
Some strategies that have helped me is to remember they are just a child and maybe they have some issues beyond their control I am not aware of has helped to me to be a little more compassionate and understanding.
and everyone is just trying to do their best…
My 24 year old son is in recovery in NYC. He was chatting with a few girls at a coffee shop when one of them commented to her friend “just stop talking to him”. Of course he took offense, had words with this woman, and ended up throwing a napkin in her face. I reminded him: “How people treat you is their karma, how you react is yours”.
Not specifically related to this post, but I just had to say… Marc and Angel, my homepage is your blog and every time I get on the internet you inspire me. Thank you!!!
Marc Chernoff says
Thank you so much for the extra kindness and support, Rhonda. You are welcome. 🙂
David Rapp says
All of this thinking has been driving a wedge in my marriage for years. It got so bad my son was struggling in school with anxiety, mostly caused by me. Every little thing in my home life was driving me insane, from the clutter to the gutters, it was all wrong. I actually dreaded going home because of the fights that were inevitably coming. And all of my predictions came true because I made them happen.
I finally backed off about a month ago when it dawned on me that if I just stopped my own contribution to the war, peace may show up on its own. I know Marc articulates bringing peace to the situation very well, but I was too far gone to even remember what peace was. You cannot give what you do not have.
Its working, but its not completed. I still have to get my work-life balance back in place, and take time off for vacation.
Marc Chernoff says
One day at a time, David… one day at a time. As you know, Angel and I are cheering for you.
Stephen Roe says
Such a good reminder. Thank you for the specific mantras. Super helpful. At my old job, I got frustrated often. I found that taking a deep breath was the ONLY way to calm myself down, and it worked every time. Wish I had these mantras back then!
Another helpful strategy I’ve found to prevent overreacting (in addition to breathing) is called grounding. Ideally, you walk barefoot in nature, but I’ve found that just feeling something in my surroundings (a desk, my clothes, a book I’m holding) helps me. I usually do that while reminding myself that this is my space and other people don’t change my thoughts–I do.
Thanks again for the excellent post. Off to share!
So inspiring reading how we ALL struggle at some level to deal with the gap between our ideal vision of what we expect life to be and what it really is day to day. Thanks to all for sharing as I recognized myself in a little or a lot of each post. I will give the deep breaths a try and work up from there.
Kimberly M says
I just had something happen that is a long time trigger of depression an anger for me and this article really helped me. I am so very grateful. Thank you. .
I have been struggling in my relationship with a daughter in law for 4 years now and have finally come to the conclusion that it doesn’t matter what I say or do, I am always going to be wrong,. I have come to realize that for whatever reason she just doesn’t like my son’s family or friends and wants to keep us all at a distance. In the beginning I took it very personally, but now I see that it really isn’t about me, and letting go of expectations and trying to keep a good relationship with my son is what matters most. There are so many gems of wisdom in each post Marc And Angel put out that really have seen me through some tough times these past 2 years. Thank you for all your time and effort, your genuine concern for people really shine through, bless you !
Lizzie Life says
I read this after a futile argument with my father. I feel horrible now. A few minutes before, if I had read this, maybe it had not ended with me slamming the door
I do find that stepping back, taking a deep breath and trying to clear my mind of the past moments issue can be very helpful. Keeping my comments to myself as well.
However, I struggle with the “over and over” words from family that cut me to the core, that hurt me and break at my already low self worth. After enough therapy, I still feel worthless. I just want to run. I try very hard to be a kind person, but others don’t think so.
I can definitely relate to this article! On a few occasions, when I didn’t want to stay calm and at peace with someone being loud and obnoxious, I remained at peace. There are some wonderful steps to take heed to in this article and to actually know that you can head off larger problems by choosing to adapt to the steps. Love the article!
Gregory Lease says
It’s amazing how easily a deep breath or two can derail our tendency to allow our “lizard brain” to take over our decision making, and keep our pre-frontal cortex (and rational thinking) online. Otherwise, our amygdala and all the emotion-fueled reactions take over and before we know it, we’re blasting away on adrenaline and cortisol and going places we’d never choose if we had time to consider the consequences.
Great post, Marc! This is not rocket science; it’s really simple if we can just give ourselves this simple practice and make it a habit in our lives. And, of course, once we’ve taken those breaths, remember the simple wisdom of the mantras you list.
I love the line: “Peace is not the absence of trouble, but the presence of love.” How true that is, especially when we remember that the components of love are unconditional acceptance, kindness, compassion and respect.
Silence is the best along with a long deep breath I take ….when things seems not finding its place in the puzzle world?
Love in its best makes it all beautiful as we let it go or accept or compromise and prayer is my best bet it always does miracle in its own way!!
Things changes drastically tomorrow is a brand new day again..and I guess that’s why we are here to get stronger and stronger paddling against every wave we come across which we do not have any control with isn’t it?
Thank you so much !!
Really useful reminders. I have been nodding my head all the way through. Thank you very much for posting this.
I did not realize that I practice these mantras already. I know they are effective as I worked in an office with an extreme amount of drama every day. Using these mantras was actually a learned skill developed while working there in order to make my job bearable. People used to comment that they didn’t understand how I could be so calm when so much hysteria was going on around me.
I’ve never understood why anyone thinks things will improve if they further escalate a situation that is already getting out of control. Many times if we seek the solution to a problem without assigning blame, or without worrying over who gets the credit for solving it, matters can be taken care of more efficiently.
Love this article and all the insightful comments. Thank you all for inspiring my morning.
Thanks for such powerful words and advice.
I must say that I have grown a lot from reading your blogs they are really insightful and make me grow emotionally.
Firstly, i cannot agree more with the fact that I cannot control what other people say and how they live their lives. Its actually none of my business. What I am responsible for is how I react to any situation.
Secondly, I have and continuously learning not to expect anything from people and their behaviour as such I appreciate a lot because ident expect a thing.
Thirdly, people are different and we are all in the race of life. We can only improve and behave to the best of our abilities.
Gurdeep Chawla says
Are en Ali says
I was thinking about an argument that I went through last week.
and I realised that the person I was talking to was having difficult times from her boss.
then I found I really need to review the way I think and the way I suppose that things should be done.
Thanks for this article.
you just reminded me that I am not alone and there are multiple ways and skills to improve the way I deal with my colleagues without loosing my relationships.
Thanks so much for this article…..it came at the most perfect time for me!
I will read it often …..and hopefully be mindful of all the important points…..and become a better person.
I look forward to your daily emails …Thankyou
I was in a really nice relationship and then one night my partner got really drunk and got up during the night and bashed the screen in our bedroom and was yelling abuse (this probably all took place with 5 mins) I was terrified by his behaviour and left our bedroom the next morning I let him know what I thought of his behaviour and he decided to start drinking again. I was so upset I called him a loser and left the property. Later that day he ended our relationship (we were together for ten months)
I regret my reaction everyday.
I love all of your articles – so helpful – Thankyou.
What you are describing is domestic abuse and you should never regret not allowing someone to frighten you like that. Instead of apologising, he dumped you because you had seen him for what he was. That should tell you everything Nocole.
Lovely words and thoughts to try and live by. Came at the most convenient time in my life when a decision has to be made whether to end my 19 year relationship with my husband (married for 11 years) of which we have 4 kids. We argue every day and most times its in front of the kids. The eldest I see her faltering in her school work and the boys show their aggressive behavior. All thanks to the arguments. I’ve tried the silence but that just eats him up more and the arguments and insults come more. I’ve been called every hurtful word you can call a woman and infront of my kids. As I’ve said, ive tried the silence but to no avail. My mind has been shifting back and forth with divorce for 3 years now and I’m yet to make a move due to fear of just making the biggest mistake of my life. But it may be the best decision ever at least for the benefit of the kids. I’m between a rock and a hard place and most of your emails hit me right after I pray the night before to at least see a sign of what to do. But I’m still in the marriage. Lots has happened to us over the past few months . He seems to be trying to save us but I’m honestly emotionally broken and drained, that I don’t want it anymore. But I’ll continue somehow to work on these mantras and see how it goes. Thanks for all the emails M&A. They’re very insightful and gets one to thinking
ALAN C ROHNER says
I like what God said in ISAIAH 1:18-20.
NOW, I guess it’s up to me to do it; REASON.