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Confirmation Bias : How To Avoid Those Uncomfortable Political Arguments

“How can I be sure in a world that’s constantly changing? How can I be sure?”-Felix Cavaliere and Eddie Brigati, The Young Rascals

This year is developing to be one of the most controversial political years of the past fifty. Americans are trying to select a president, political alliances are changing, gender roles are being redefined, the nature of social relationships are different than ever before, and BBWthe ways that humans interact are all in a state of flux. There is a ton of objective research out there on every topic in existence to be studied, processed, pondered, and considered before one makes an opinion on anything. It seems that virtually no one ever changes their mind once it’s made up. People are arguing with each other, ending long-lasting friendships, and I’m sure that more than a few family gatherings have gone silent when politics is introduced to the conversation. Misleading statistics, false accusations, and out of context conversations pervade the popular media, leaving us all in the dark about what’s really going on. Despite this misinformation, everyone seems to have an opinion that they are convinced of, drinking the Kool-Aid because of something that they read online or saw on TV. And, once convinced of that “truth” no one seems to ever change their mind or reconsider an opinion.

The human animal does not do well with uncertainty. This is an evolutionary trait, dating back to the time when humans had to make quick and decisive decisions in order to survive. Once primitive tribal culture made a decision, it was usually too late to go back. Decisions had to be made quickly and decisively, it was literally a matter of life or death. Over 200,000 years later, most of us still make important political decisions using this primitive tribal logic. “Here’s what I believe, now I have to find the facts to support it.”

“Confirmation bias, also called confirmatory bias or myside bias, is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s preexisting beliefs or hypotheses, while giving disproportionately less consideration to alternative possibilities.”-Wikipedia

Cognitive and social sciences have studied confirmation bias since the 1960s. It occurs when a person has a long held belief that is usually accompanied with some emotional attachment. The stronger the emotional attachment, the more that a person becomes convinced of the belief. When challenged, rather than reconsidering the veracity of that belief, a person frantically searches for something that confirms it, rather than challenge it. If a person can quote or recall some out of context conversation, statistic or soundbite, then they can move on to other things, feeling secure that they are on the right side, have made an intelligent decision, and generally end up feeling pretty good about themselves and their beliefs. In many cases, confirmation bias is pretty harmless. In 2016, not so much. Pay attention to how many emotional arguments, political discussions gone bad, and friendships that are impacted this year. My hunch is that you won’t not to have to wait very long. We all know how it plays out. You’re at a social gathering, and some controversial idea such as politics or religion comes up. Two people, who would otherwise be friendly and respectful of each other, have different views. There is a brief, yet sharp, disagreement followed by a long and awkward silence as both realize what’s happening but just can’t stop themselves. Someone else will invariably break in to interrupt by changing subject. Interactions progress from there, but awkwardness will linger and perhaps ruin what otherwise could have been a great time for a lot of people who have a shared social history.

Confirmation bias has always existed, but it’s never been so easy to fall into. Before the Internet, social media, and 24 hour news stations, it was the exclusive domain of the intelligent, learned, and the philosopher. Through most of man’s history, confirmation biases held by a handful of political leaders led to war, misdirected efforts of whole civilizations, and mass executions. Even some well-known and respected historical figures were aware of it:

“For it is a habit of mankind to entrust to careless hope what they long for, and to use sovereign reason to thrust aside what they do not fancy.” -Thucydides, discussing The Peloponnesian War

“Opinion—hasty—often can incline to the wrong side, and then affection for one’s own opinion binds, confines the mind.”-Thomas Aquinas

“The human understanding when it has once adopted an opinion … draws all things else to support and agree with it. And though there be a greater number and weight of instances to be found on the other side, yet these it either neglects or despises, or else by some distinction sets aside or rejects.”-Francis Bacon

When considering the seductive nature of confirmation bias, be sure to consider your own coupletendencies. If we are brutally honest with ourselves, we know that this is something everybody does. It helps us rationalize long-held beliefs that range from complexities such as religion and the meaning of life, to what the best kind of diet for weight loss is, or what is the best form of exercise. Be careful what logic you apply to that person that you’re bound to encounter that holds a vastly different opinion than your own. Don’t be so quick to end a friendship or important relationship because of their view on the best candidate for the presidency, whether or not Great Britain should leave the European Union, or what their views on religion are. There used to be a saying that, in social situations, to “never discuss politics or religion.” Since that isn’t likely to happen, take an emotional step back when you find yourself, or someone else, in one of those awkward arguments that will inevitably flareup. If Thucydides, Thomas Aquinas, and Francis Bacon were subject to this all too human tendency, we’re all at risk, including your crazy uncle or your spouse’s best friend.

If you face confirmation bias this weekend, at work, or in conversation follow this three-step process:

⦁    Recognize it. If you understand what confirmation bias is, you may have that “ah ha” moment. “Here it is, confirmation bias.” Observe it as if it is some lake that you don’t have to jump into.
⦁    Accept it. Suddenly, it morphs from a heated and emotionally charged argument to a natural way that human beings process complicated and emotionally charged events. Remember, no one is ever going to change a strongly held political opinion because of something that you’ve posted on Facebook. Deal with it.
⦁    Let it go. By remaining focused on the relationship that you have with what you Boxingperceive to be a misguided and misinformed individual, you are avoiding the trap of your own biases. The winds of political and social change are likely to blow in a different direction soon enough. Allowing others to have their opinions, even if you think they are incorrect, is the healthiest for your sanity and sense of connectedness.

Confirmation bias has had a major influence in the areas of politics, religion, health, science, finances, and human history, often with dire consequences. Adopt a “wait and see” attitude in your personal life and in social situations.

It’s an election year, and you know it’s going to happen.

“I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing.”- Plato

Smart guy that Plato!

John

P. S. If you found this article helpful, you may benefit from some personalized mindbody coaching. Contact me at http://mindbodycoach.org/contact-us/ if interested in online mindbody coaching. Please check out my Products page through the link at the top of this post.. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and social media. Email me with questions at john@mindbodycoach.org

The Half Fast Solution To Your Anger Management Problem

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”- Viktor Frankl

There is commercial making the rounds on television right now for an Internet provider cartoon angrtouting itself for its speed. The Internet service prides itself on being very fast, as opposed to its competitors who are merely “half fast.” When I first heard the commercial couple weeks ago, my initial reaction was, “Did I just hear what I think I heard?” And yes, that is what I heard. I also got an inspiration for the way that I teach clients anger management.

Anger is a very misunderstood and much maligned human emotion. Most of us develop a bad relationship with our anger because we never learn to recognize it correctly, control it, or learn to channel it in the right direction. Our bad relationship with this basic emotion starts, for most of us, in early childhood. The adults in our lives give us messages, before we even enter school, that anger is bad and is not a characteristic of “nice people,” whoever they are. Many of us spend the rest of our days struggling to be “good people,” who stuff their anger inside, keeping their mouth shut during times of turmoil. We believe that anger is an eruption that occurs when that stuffed down anger become so overwhelming that we simply have to “blowup” or “snap.” When this happens to most of us, we feel guilty, believing that we are like those “bad people” we were warned about in childhood. Even worse than that, we may get our needs met, as people back down in the face of our display of anger. I say that this is even worse, because it increases the likelihood that we will act this way again in the future. On a basic level, this kind of interaction teaches us that this is what we need to do in order to get our needs met. We also learn that the greater the need, the greater the amount of anger required to attain it.

So, at this point you are probably wondering what to do with that pent-up emotion that you have inside you at those moments that life puts you in those anger provoking situations. There are a number of ways to prevent you from going from 0 to 60 too quickly. Let’s call them “Half Fast Solutions” to your anger management problem:
1. Recognize that anger is a signal, not a state of being. Anger is a signal that you are either afraid, or that something going on around you is unacceptable to you. Quite often, if you examine the kinds of things that provoke your anger, you’ll realize that it’s often a combination of both fear and unacceptability. Anger is an action signal that you must change something. That something may be external to you, requiring you to influence some other person, place, or thing in your environment. It could also be internal. You may be the at fault party in an interaction, or you may be misinterpreting or misunderstanding something, leading to these disturbing feelings that you label as anger.
2. You must find ways to slow down that automatic response and chain of events that you have become addicted to in these moments. Take a look again at the Viktor Frankl quote. Train yourself to find that space by breathing, sometimes very deeply, and asking yourself two important questions, “What am I afraid of?” and “What is unacceptable to me right now?” This is the key to the Half Fast Solution that began this article. Between stimulus and response there is a space. Good anger management technique will teach you to find that space and use it to your advantage.
coke btl3. Learn to use visualization to slow the process down. I often teach my clients the analogy of the balloon that is overfilled with air. I hold my thumb and forefinger in the air pinched tightly together and ask my client if they had ever seen it balloon with too much air in it. Of course, they have, and I then ask, ‘What happens if I release my grip on that balloon too quickly?’ opening my thumb and forefinger. They describe how the balloon quickly flies out of control and lands on the ground exhausted. Another brilliant question I ask is, “Have you ever put your thumb on the top of an open Coke bottle and shaken it up?” You get the idea, and so do they.
4. The key to the Half Fast solution is to use that space that you have found to change, if possible, the thing that you are fearful of or that you find unacceptable. You are in a battle here, but the weapons are calm, yet assertive, words used artfully and skillfully in an attempt to get your needs met. You must make it very clear to the other person in this interaction how you are feeling using words that are skillfully chosen and artfully delivered. Remember, the goal is to get your needs met,not to prove to anyone what a bad ass you can be.
hulk anger5. Keep in mind that the solution is called Half Fast, not Do Nothing or Walk Away. Doing so continues that pattern that you’ve developed of stuffing your feelings inside. This passive behavior repeated over time can lead to physical illness and relationship problems with people in your life who you consider to be “safe.” How many times does a guy have a bad day at work, then come home and take it out on his wife and kids? Turn on the evening news and you’ll notice it happens all too often. Being assertive, using the Half Fast Solution defuses things more appropriately. Win or lose, after you apply the Half Fast Solution it’s done. You walk away knowing that you did the best you could at that moment.

Think of all the Half Fast Solution is a middle ground. Begin to practice these strategies with little annoyances, being sure to notice exactly what you are doing. This is a skill that you can master with a little practice. Start with the little things that have a tendency to tee you off and consciously seek to use these skills. As your skill set develops, you’ll soon find yourself handling things that used to resemble Hiroshima with ease. And, you just might find that you like yourself a lot better.

“Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far.” ― Theodore Roosevelt

Be careful who you hit with that stick! Contact me at john@mindbodycoach.org if you are looking for some specific anger management training suited to your unique stressors.

 

John

P. S. Contact me if interested in online mindbody coaching. Please check out my Products page through the link at the top of this post.. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and social media. Email me at john@mindbodycoach.org.

Craze Rage: Why We Enjoy Anger Despite Ourselves

“Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.”― Mark Twain

Turn on any source of technology-computer, television, radio, or iPhone-and it won’tfrustration be too long before you come across some story of how someone is outraged, angry, agitated, aggressive, or otherwise pissed off about some real or imagined injustice that the world has done to them or others. It’s virtually impossible to go through a day exposed to any of these sources of information and not have this happen. You are going to see some aspect of man’s inhumanity to man that just sets you off. To quote Vince Lombardi, “What in the hell is going on out there?”

Is the world getting worse? Are people less kind and considerate than they were in the “old days,” whenever they were, or, is there something else going on here? Why is it that so many of us are willing to buy into the rage of others? Why do so many of us have a difficult time letting go of anger that is inspired by something that we were exposed to through the media and not in real time? More importantly, what impact does this have on our physical and emotional health?

I call this phenomenon Craze Rage. Like everything that is a craze, everyone’s doing it because it’s the latest thing. Craze Rage occurs when millions of people get outraged by something that has gone viral through television or the Internet. It can be something huge and significant, but it’s often something that has been captured on somebody’s iPhone camera, ends up on YouTube, and people post it to their Facebook timeline telling their friends what an injustice it is. Their friends tell their friends, and so on, and so on…. Ba bam. It goes viral and millions of people are outraged about something that they cannot control or do anything about. Craze Rage. Admit it, you’ve probably find yourself falling victim to it. I know I have.

What causes this? Why is this whole phenomenon so provocative and inviting? A major reason is the instant access we have to all kinds of knowledge and information available at our fingertips. Much of this knowledge and access is incredibly beneficial, healthy, and useful. Some of it, not so much. Internet search engines use the web in the same manner that supermarkets use the checkout line, for impulse buying. Many a day you probably go to your computer with the best of intentions and something pops up on your screen, or appears in one of the sidebars. It catches your attention, you click, and you’re off and running, Alice in Wonderland style, right down a rabbit hole that you never intended to fall into. We live in an ADD world, and Andy Warhol was right. We all can have our 15 minutes of fame.

Stories that inspire anger and outrage can be quite seductive, especially if they’ve phonebeen video taped. We can watch the injustice over and over, allowing us to really savor our outrage. Outrage leads to a sense of great indignation, often quite valid, that we just have to do something about. We talk about it to others, email the link to our friends, and post it to Facebook for all the world to see. We feel good about this, after all we have taken a step to expose an injustice, and enjoy a brief moment of satisfaction. What makes Craze Rage so compelling is that we get to be Rosa Parks and Gandhi with the flick of the finger. Pretty cool, right? Well, not exactly.

There are, however, some potentially unhealthy aspects to using the Internet and television in this manner. Anger, and its associated physical and emotional impact, is a great source of stress on the human body and mind. Here are some reasons that taking on too much anger is not a great idea:
⦁ Approximately 70% of primary care doctor visits in the United States each year are due to stress related complaints. Anger is, undoubtedly, stressful.
⦁ Craze Rage, in reality, accomplishes nothing if it’s not followed up with a righteous action. It feels good, we think we’ve done something constructive, but we often haven’t.
⦁ Carrying too much anger can spill over into our physical, emotional, and spiritual lives. The physical damage is obvious, as is the emotional. Too much dwelling on these injustices can cause otherwise very spiritual people to question the very meaning of life, existence, and what ever they believe to be is their higher power. How many times have you heard a person say, “How could God allow this to happen?” Whether you are religious or not is not the question here. Consider the impact of so many people feeling so powerless and alone.
⦁ Craze Rage is like junk food. We consume it, it fills us up, but with what? What nourishment does our mind and spirit get from it? While we certainly need to consume some, we need to be careful of how much, what type, and how long we wallow in it.
⦁ Craze Rage contributes to more of what the poet Robert Burns called “man’s inhumanity to man.” Our children get cyber bullied,(that never happened to Theodore Cleaver), there are more instances of road rage than there were 50 to 60 years ago, and more of us are taking the role of a bystander than probably anytime in our nation’s history. We become used to pushing a button in getting somebody else to do our dirty work. Many of us are living a Walter Mitty type existence, fantasizing, and identifying with people that are actually out there making a difference. Craze Rage can keep us on the sidelines.
⦁ Craze Rage also contributes to a lack of personal responsibility, personal involvement, and personal empowerment. These three things are characteristics of a healthy and self actualized person.

While I am certainly not implying that we should not be righteously indignant at times with all the world’s injustices, I am implying that we all need to be careful of what kind of impact this has on us and those we care about. If you are a parent of young children, think about how your Craze Rage can impact them. If you truly care about making the world different, ask yourself what you are doing, actually doing, to change a part of it. Taking some action, and yes it can be letting your friends know about it, can be healthy and empowering. Just be aware of what you get outraged about and what you choose to do with those feelings.

“Anybody can become angry — that is easy, but to be angry with the right person andphone to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way — that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.” ― Aristotle

 

John

P. S. Contact me if interested in online mindbody coaching. Please check out my author’s page at amazon.com/author/johnsannicandro or using the Amazon link on this page. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and social media. Also check out my Youtube channel through the link to the right of this post. Email me at john@mindbodycoach.org.

Acceptance And True Wisdom

“And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some MHS-300x199person, place, thing or situation — some fact of my life — unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment. “- Anonymous

One of the most difficult balancing acts that any human being has to perform is the juggling of the possible with the impossible. The quality of our life is largely determined by the internal dialogue that we constantly engage in and the quality of the questions that we ask ourselves continuously. Can I? Should I? Is it possible? Why? Why not? Why me? These are the kind of questions that can either allow us to have what we deem to be a successful, satisfying, life or drive us crazy. For some people, simple questions such as these are so overwhelming that they settle for whatever life gives them, believing that this will give them serenity. The irony is that these people are perhaps the most likely to be negative and feel unfulfilled.

As a psychotherapist, one of the most humbling experiences that I have is sitting with the emotional pain that clients bring into the counseling room. Over the almost 20 years that I’ve been practicing, I find myself struggling with my own internal dialogue when working with clients. Questions such as, “Can I help them fix this?,” “How can I help him/her see this in a more positive light?” and “What can I do to motivate them?,”are typical self statements that I make after the first session with a new client. More often than I’d like to admit, the answer to these questions is to help them accept an unpleasant and painful situation. More often than not, issues clients come to therapy with are things that can be fixed, improved, or changed. These are challenges for my clients and their success in these cases is extremely satisfying and rewarding for me. Sometimes, the situation clients are in calls for acceptance of some painful reality that cannot be changed and may never go away. In situations like these, acceptance is the only answer.

snow_2522302bThe idea of acceptance is certainly not new. It is a core belief in virtually all of the world’s great religions and philosophies, such as Judaism, Christianity, and Buddhism. Great minds throughout history have embraced the concept of acceptance as the only way to cope with the uncertainty and tentative nature of human existence. Life can be a wonderful, fulfilling experience, or pure torture, depending on what a person believes and focuses on. Acceptance, however, does not mean denial of life’s realities. Some psychotherapies teach a concept that is called Radical Acceptance, where one accepts a difficult situation while acknowledging, very clearly, that it is painful. The basic belief and thought process behind Radical Acceptance is, “I don’t like the situation that I am in, or this painful event, but I am powerless to do anything about it. It is out of my control. I cannot do anything about it, so acceptance is the only answer to relieving some of the suffering associated with this situation.” Radical Acceptance proposes that the pain and suffering is made worse by struggling against something that cannot be changed.

Acceptance of life’s realities does not mean that one becomes a doormat for unacceptable people and events that life puts in your path. It does mean, however, that a person must decide which battles to fight and where to place their emotional energy and focus. What a person focuses on determines their reality and plays a huge role in their emotional and mental well-being. Prioritizing where our mental energy goes is perhaps the biggest challenge of being human. While all of us don’t have the time, energy, or even interest to read the works of the great philosophers, there are some shortcuts we can use to help us decide where our focus should go. One of the best I know of is a written activity that I call Serenity Prayer 101:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.”
Reinhold Niebuhr

This exercise is designed to create clarity and to help you focus your efforts and emotional energy. Make three columns on a piece of paper. Label the first column Things I Cannot Change, the second column Things I Can Change, and in the third column for a question mark. Write in the first column, without judgment or analysis, all you cannot change about the situation. When done, proceed to the second column in begin to strategize things that you can change about the situation. There will be some back and forth between the two columns and you may find yourself erasing and crossing out before you decide which column something truly belongs. In the third column you will place everything that you are not quite sure of where they belong-column one or column two.

At the completion of the exercise a person usually has a much clearer sense of what is in their power to change and what they need to accept. Remember, acceptance does not mean that you like it or agree with it, it means that it is something you are powerless to change. It may be something from your past, someone else’s past, a natural event, or an illness-anything that you are powerless to control, influence, or change.

For many of life’s more painful events, acceptance is truly the only answer. However, don’t be too quick imagesto accept that you are powerless over a situation. Doing the Serenity Prayer 101 exercise in writing will give you the clarity needed to decide if you have any ability to influence the undesirable situation. Before you throw up your hands and utter that overused cliche, “It is what it is,” sit down and logically decide if there is a course of action that you can take.

Remember, acceptance is always the answer, but it should never be an excuse.

 

John

P. S. Contact me if interested in online mindbody coaching or cognitive behavioral therapy. Please check out my author’s page at amazon.com/author/johnsannicandro or using the Amazon link on this page. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and social media. Email me at john@mindbodycoach.org.

A Sober Solution To Managing Anger

The word sober has a lot of different meanings and connotations. An obvious meaning is to be free from indexthe influence of a psychoactive substance, such as drugs or alcohol. Another meaning is to be serious and thoughtful. There are a multitude of different acronyms that use the word sober as a reminder for something. (My favorite is SOBER-son of a bitch, everything’s real!, borrowed from Alcoholics Anonymous.) One does not have to be an alcoholic, substance abuser, or under the influence of a substance in order to benefit from the sober acronym.

In moments of intense anger and emotion, our rational, logical, brain shuts down and we become influenced by an intense burst of brain chemicals that lead to an angry, often embarrassing outburst that he later regret. I’m sure we all can identify events in our lives when we overreacted, got angry, and later regretted it. We probably acted on limited information, going with the intense emotion, before we had all the information that we needed to make a more rational choice. In that moment of emotional intensity we might as well have been under the influence of a substance. The fact is that in times of emotional reactivity our brains get taken over by a chemical stew that is influenced by our past experience and preconceived notions. Someone acting out in anger is, in that moment of irrational thought and behavior, is as impaired in judgment as any drunk or drug addict. Outbursts of anger trigger the release of the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline, which if not managed can lead to a host of physical and emotional problems. (See also http://mindbodycoach.org/?p=1379)

reptilianbrainThere is research that suggests that repeated and episodic outbursts of anger create changes in the brain on a cellular level. It changes the brain’s neurons, making it difficult for them to switch on and off appropriately, effectively getting them stuck in an “on” position when facing things that trigger anger. A person becomes addicted to the flood of brain chemicals that they create when confronted with their anger triggers. This compels a person to act out angrily over and over again, as they become addicted to their own negative brain chemistry. Over time, such stress blocks the growth of new neurons that would otherwise make coping with these triggers more likely. Anger responses can literally become an addiction.

To break this destructive pattern of anger as addiction, we’re going to use the acronym SOBER as a way to retrain the brain to learn better ways of coping. (For more on how to identify anger triggers see http://mindbodycoach.org/?p=477) The acronym is simple. Here’s the steps:
⦁ S = Stop immediately, and as soon as you are aware that you are you are about to enter a triggering situation. The first step in managing anger is to become aware of what your hot buttons are and how you typically respond to them. What do you typically say to yourself during these times? How does your body responds at these times? What physical gestures do you make when becoming angry? What things do you say, swears do you use, expressions and so on? People run the same patterns over and over again in the brain when they are becoming angry, so we tend to think, do, and say the same things at these times. STOP as soon as you recognize one of your patterns beginning.
⦁ O = Observe what’s going on, both internally and externally. Ask yourself the important questions: Is this one of my trigger events? What am I saying to myself? What’s my internal dialogue right now? What am I feeling physically at the moment? Where am I holding physical tension? Become aware of physiological sensations, such as the way you are breathing, carrying tension in your muscles, and the volume and tone of your voice. Remember, it’s virtually impossible to change something that you do not notice.
⦁ B = Breathe. Take some deep breaths and slowly exhale. If possible, notice that you are doing it. Notice yourself breathing, and bringing that response under control. Regulated, controlled, aware breathing is by far the best thing one can do to bring physiological responses under control. Controlled breathing brings your parasympathetic nervous system into play, allowing you to slow down your physiological responses. This allows your thoughts to slow and prepare you for more rational thought. There is a reason that pregnant women are taught those breathing techniques.
⦁ E = Expand your view and your interpretation of what’s going on. Start from the inside and work outward by getting your breathing under control first. Then, begin to examine your own thoughts and internal dialogue. Ask yourself some more rational questions. Is there another explanation for this? Did they do that on purpose? Am I overreacting? Could I be wrong? Am I missing something? These are initial questions that you must consider. Consider what the various responses you may make at this time could lead to. You may remember times that you acted poorly in similar situations and later regretted it. This will enable you to learn from that past, negative experience. Consider choices that you will be comfortable with.
⦁ R = Respond. Choose a course of action that is consistent with your personal values and is appropriate to the situation at hand. By no means should having anger management skills make you a doormat for the world. We’re not trying to turn you into St. Francis here, we are trying to get you to slow down, get your physiology under control, and respond appropriately to the situation in a way that you can feel good about.

This process does take a little time, but is simple to implement into your everyday life. Once you imagesmemorize the acronym, look to find ways to implement it immediately. This is a skill that you can develop with some conscientious effort. The benefits are that it can improve your relationships, work performance, self image, and your emotional and physical health. The sobering facts are that people who are prone to anger suffer from greater instances of heart disease, high blood pressure, muscle tension, elevated cholesterol, are more prone to being overweight, and die earlier. Using the skills outlined here you will learn that anger is not instinctive, but is a choice. You can get it under control.

“The greatest remedy for anger is delay.”- Thomas Paine

 

John

P. S. Contact me if interested in online mindbody coaching or cognitive behavioral therapy. Please check out my author’s page at amazon.com/author/johnsannicandro or using the Amazon link on this page. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and social media. Email me at john@mindbodycoach.org.

Anger Management Damn It !

angerAnger management. An often used expression, something people joke about, and something we tell our friends that they need. But what is anger management? How does it work? What does it do? And do I need it?

Anger is a primal human emotion that is hardwired in the brain. It serves to protect us from real and imagined threats, makes us stronger, more aggressive, and readies us for self-defense. It is a normal emotion with a wide range of intensity, from mild frustration all the way to black out rage. It is designed to protect us from physical and emotional threats both real and imagined. While it serves a purpose, it often gets people into trouble when they react too strongly to its powerful effects.

There are three components to anger:
1. Physical reactions. Anger often begins with a surge of adrenaline, increased heartbeat, and muscle tightening. This is the classic “fight or flight” response.
2. Cognitive factors. What we say to ourselves, and how we internally interpret outside events is a huge factor in how we handle the powerful chemical events that can take place and I brain. We may a label events as threatening, dangerous, or unfair. The way we think determines how we feel, how we act, and the consequences of our feelings. (Check the “Therapies” category to the right of this article for more information on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.”)
3. Behavior. People often shout, slam things, hit, and become aggressive. People could also verbalize that there upset, take a deep breath, and respond assertively rather than aggressively.

In order to gain control one must first recognize their “anger script” and slow down the 0 to 60 anger phoneresponse. People who are prone to anger frequently enjoy their anger on some level. They’ve been frequently rewarded for the behavior and often get their needs met by a display of bluster, threat, or rage. This makes the cycle very difficult to break and requires considerable insight that can only be developed through introspection. Willingness to do this work is the biggest reason why anger management training succeeds or fails. Many who attempt anger management try strategies halfheartedly, then fail with a “see I told you I couldn’t do it,” attitude. Willingness to change is the critical factor in mastering this emotion.

The first step is trigger identification. What events are most likely to trigger anger in a person? These sensitive areas or “red flags” usually refer to long-standing issues that can easily lead to anger. In some cases just thinking of these events creates a chemical change. Long waits to see your doctor, traffic jams, being wrongly accused, having to clean up for someone else, or having something stolen from you, are all good examples.

fistThe next step is your internal triggers need to be identified. How does your body respond for example. Do you ball your hands into fists? Does your breathing change? Does your face feel hot? Does your pulse throb by your temples? What do you say to yourself at that moment? Do you swear? Are there certain swear words that you use either to yourself or out loud? These questions are key in slowing down the chain of events that lead to an anger outburst. The first step in changing any behavior is always awareness. A person simply cannot change an unconscious response.

The third step is to choose an alternate behavior that is more appropriate and under your control.

So what are the actual steps that need to be taken for one to get control of their anger? Anger management can be learned through classes, in individual counseling sessions, and through the systematic self study. While I believe in both classes and individual counseling, this article will address self-study.

GET A NOTEBOOK and make a list of things that evoke anger for you. Don’t judge or overthink, JUST WRITE OUT ALL THE THINGS THAT MAKE YOU ANGRY! Think hard about this as some of these triggers may not be things you are consciously aware of.

Begin to analyze the point in this process where you begin to “lose it.” What’s the point of no return with each of these triggers? LABEL your anger on a scale of 1 to 10. This is your Anger Meter.

At what point do you lose it? When does the traffic jam cross the line? At 6? Or at 8? How angry did he make you before you got violent? At 8, or was it 9? This is the point where resistance begins to emerge but if you’re patient you will begin to see points where you may be able to control your behavior. Labeling and evaluating emotions quantitatively enable you to see that behaviors such as anger can be evaluated, and therefore potentially controlled. This activity done consistently teaches emotional control. And angry outburst is by no means automatic. The goal here is to enable you to fly over the hurricane without landing in it. Become an observer to situations rather than an unwilling participant.

Daily reflection using this labeling with a number system is vital to success. Breaking the chain of events will not occur automatically. SLOW THINGS DOWN, THINK IT THROUGH, and MAKE A BETTER CHOICE.. DECIIDE what to do, rather than let events dictate your reactions.

Change the way that you talk to yourself about these events both before, during, and after. Review and analyze after events to assess how well you did. This is important because it reinforces the key concept that these internal of events are not necessarily what really is going on. Your INTERPRETATION is the key here.

In addition to the mental changes required for anger control, there are physiological skills thatbaldwin make it easier. Calming the mind regularly through meditation, exercise, proper diet, and relaxation techniques will certainly help. The catch 22 here is that usually people who are prone to anger don’t have the discipline to engage in these practices on a regular basis. In future articles I’ll go into detail on strategies to calm the inpatient but for now we’ll just look at one strategy. Progressive relaxation where one that tenses each muscle and then relaxes it is often the best way for an inpatient person to learn to relax. Start either at your face or your toes and tense each muscle group as strongly as possible for 5 to 10 seconds each. Relax after, noticing the contrast in feeling. This feels good, relieves stress, teaches muscle control, and enables one to relax on demand. Breathing techniques take a little more patience but often creep their way into progressive relaxation. Diligent practice of progressive relaxation usually inadvertently teaches some level of breath control.

Like most behaviors that need to change, the key is PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE! This must be pursued daily. Anger management classes generally last at least six weeks in duration. There is no magic here, you must be motivated to change. Focusing on the side benefits of anger management makes things a little easier. You’ll feel better physically, your family and friends will react more positively to you, and you will probably find that you get more of your needs met than you did when you were blowing up on a regular basis.

“You will not be punished for your anger, you will be punished BY your anger.” —The Buddha

“If you are patient in one moment of anger, you will escape 100 days of sorrow.”-Chinese Proverb

John
P. S. Let me know if you’d like me to write more on this or any other subject. Email me at john@mindbodycoach.org. Please follow this blog by signing up through the box to the right of this article.

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