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