You can’t calm the storm. What you can do is calm yourself, and the storm will gradually pass.
Over the past decade, there’s a way of being I’ve gradually been cultivating in myself — I’ve been taming my tendency to get riled up 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 us up the most. We get frustrated when things don’t play out the way we expect them to, and when people don’t behave like they’re “supposed” to. We expect our family to act a certain way, our friends to always be kind, and strangers to be less difficult.
And when reality hits us, and everyone seems to be doing the opposite of what we expect them to do, we get triggered — anger, frustration, stress, arguments, tears, etc.
If you can relate in any way at all right now, it’s to to remind yourself of the truth: You can’t control how other people behave. You can’t control everything that happens to you. What you can control is how you respond to it all. In your response is your power…
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 so we choose more constructive responses, no matter the situation. So, for example, do your best to inhale and exhale next time another driver cuts you off in traffic. In a recent poll we hosted with couple hundred new course students, overreacting while fighting traffic was the most commonly cited reason for overreacting on an average day. Just imagine if all the drivers on the road took deep breaths before making nasty hand gestures, or screaming obscenities.
Of course, there’s no doubt that it can drive us crazy when we don’t get what we expect from people, especially when they’re being rude and difficult. But trying to change the unchangeable — wanting others to be exactly the way we want them to be — just doesn’t work. So we’ve got to make some changes and lead by example.
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.
- 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 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 more peaceful place. I hope you will join me…
Mindful Ways to Remain Calm
If you’re ready to feel more peace and less inner angst, here are some ways I’ve learned to remain calm and centered, even when those around me can’t seem to contain themselves. These principles reinforce the quick bullet points above, and when you consistently practice them, the world within you and around you becomes a lot easier to cope with.
Let’s practice, together…
1. Get comfortable with pausing.
Don’t imagine the worst when you encounter a little drama. When someone is acting irrationally, don’t join them by rushing to make a negative judgment call. Instead, pause and take a deep breath.
Inhale. Exhale. A moment of calmness in a moment of tension 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 calm. Others never expect calmness. 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 calm pause? That can really disarm them, and put you back in control.
2. Think bigger.
Imagine a two-year-old who doesn’t get what she wants at the moment. She throws a temper tantrum! This small momentary problem is enormous in her little mind because she lacks perspective on the situation. But as adults, we know better. We realize that there are dozens of other things this two-year-old could do to be happier. Sure, that’s easy for us to say — we have a bigger perspective, right? But when someone offends us, we suddenly have a little perspective again — this small momentary offense seems enormous and it makes us want to scream! We throw the equivalent of a two-year-old’s temper tantrum.
Of course if we think bigger we can see that this small thing matters very little in the grand scheme of things. It’s not worth our energy. Thus, always remind yourself to be bigger, think bigger, and broaden your perspective.
3. Respect people’s differences.
Being kind to someone you dislike or disagree with doesn’t mean you’re fake. It means you’re mature enough to control your emotions and do the right thing. Period.
And it’s absolutely possible to connect with, and even appreciate the company of someone you don’t completely agree with. When you make a commitment to remain neutral on matters that don’t matter that much, and speak respectfully about your disagreements that do matter, both parties can remain calmer and move forward with grace. It’s a long process sometimes, but it’s worth it.
So just keep reminding yourself that what goes around comes around. No one has ever made themselves strong by showing how small someone else is. Just because someone does it differently doesn’t make it wrong. There are many roads to what’s right in this world.
4. Find compassion and put yourself in their shoes.
In the busyness of today’s world people tend to be worried, fearful, hurting and distracted about everything. The word compassion means “to suffer with.” When you can put yourself in the other person’s shoes, you give them the space to regroup without putting any extra pressure on them.
Truth be told, everyone gets upset and loses their temper sometimes. Remind yourself that we are all more alike than we are different. When you catch yourself passing judgment, add “just like me sometimes” to the end of a sentence. For example:
- That person is grouchy, just like me sometimes.
- He is so darn impatient, just like me sometimes.
- She is being rude, just like me sometimes.
And choose to let others off the hook when you can.
5. Take things less personally.
If you take everything personally, you will be offended for the rest of your life. There’s just no reason for it! Even when it seems personal, rarely do people do things because of you, they do things because of them. You know this is true. You may not be able control all the things people say and do to you, but you can decide not to be endlessly distracted by them. Make that decision for yourself today.
Seriously, there is a huge amount of freedom that comes to you when you detach from other people’s beliefs and behaviors. The way people treat you is their problem, how you react is yours.
6. Create proactive morning rituals that start your days off right.
Don’t rush into your day by checking your phone or email. Don’t put yourself it a stressful state of mind that’s incapable of dealing effectively with other people’s negativity. Create time and space for morning rituals that get you moving in the right direction.
Here’s part of my morning ritual: I take 15 deep breaths before getting out of bed, I stand up and stretch, and then do 15 minutes of meditation.
I challenge you to try this — it has been life-changing for me — but start small with just three deep breaths and three minutes of meditation a day. Do this for 30 days. After 30 days, if this daily ritual becomes easy, add another two breaths and another two minutes to your ritual. When you begin a day mindfully, you lay the foundation for inner calmness and effectiveness, regardless of what’s going on around you.
7. Cope using healthy choices and alternatives.
When we face stressful situations, we are often encouraged to calm or soothe ourselves with unhealthy choices — drinking alcohol, eating sugary snacks, smoking, etc. It’s easy to respond to stress with unhealthy distractions. So pay more attention to how you cope with stress, and replace bad coping habits with healthy coping habits…
Take a walk in a green space. Make a cup of green tea and sit quietly with your thoughts. Listen to some pleasant music. Write in your journal. Talk it out with a close friend. Healthy coping habits make a difference. (Note: Marc and I discuss this further in the Self-Love chapter of “1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently”.)
8. Remind yourself of what’s right (and create more of it in the world).
At the end of the day, reflect on your small daily wins and all the little things that are going well. Count three small events on your fingers that happened during the day that you’re undoubtedly grateful for. For example:
- My family and I made it home safely from work and school today.
- My spouse and I shared a laugh.
- Our meals filled our stomachs.
And then pay it forward — let your positivity empower you to think kindly of others, speak kindly to others, and do kind things for others. Kindness often brings calmness by allowing us to relish in life’s goodness. Create a few outcomes others might be grateful for at the end of their day.
9. Practice letting everything and everyone breathe.
As you read these words, you are breathing. Stop for a moment and notice this breath. You can control this breath, and make it faster or slower, or make it behave as you like. Or you can simply let yourself inhale and exhale naturally. There is peace in just letting your lungs breathe, without having to control the situation or do anything about it. Now imagine letting other parts of your body breathe, like your tense shoulders. Just let them be, without having to tense them or control them.
Now look around the room you’re in and notice the objects around you. Pick one, and let it breathe. There are likely people in the room with you too, or in the same house or building, or in nearby houses or buildings. Visualize them in your mind, and let them breathe.
When you let everything and everyone breathe, you just let them be, exactly as they are. You don’t need to control them, worry about them, or change them. You just let them breathe, in peace, and you accept them as they are. This is what letting go is all about. It can be a life-changing practice.
10. Establish and enforce healthy and reasonable boundaries.
Practice becoming more aware of your feelings and needs. Note the times and circumstances when you’re resentful of fulfilling someone else’s needs. Gradually build healthy boundaries by saying no to gratuitous requests that cause resentfulness in you. Of course, this will be hard at first because it may feel a bit selfish. But if you’ve ever flown on a plane, you know that flight attendants instruct passengers to put on their own oxygen masks before tending to others, even their own children. Why? Because you can’t help others if you’re incapacitated.
In the long run, proactively establishing and enforcing healthy and reasonable boundaries will be one of the most charitable things you can do for yourself and those you care about. These boundaries will foster and preserve the best of you — the calmest and most capable version of you — so you can share the best of yourself with the people who matter most to you.
Now, it’s your turn…
Yes, it’s your turn to let calmness can be your superpower. It’s your turn to breathe in serenity, armed with the comforting knowledge that there’s no reason to let someone else’s behavior turn you into someone you aren’t…
But before you go, please leave Marc and me a comment below and let us know what you think of this essay. Your feedback is important to us. 🙂
Which one of the points above resonated the most today?
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