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Excise Anger from Your Life

By Marty Nemko

Anger destroys careers. It destroys relationships. You may think it lets off steam or shows how passionate you are, but getting angry almost invariably loses you more than you gain. Your bosses, co-workers, romantic partners, and children may kowtow in the short run, but they’ll increasingly try to avoid doing what you’d like them to--it’s only natural for people to try to foil someone who tries to intimidate them.

An angry personality can also cost you your life. Anger creates the physiological fight-or-flight response, which takes a toll on the body.

If you can stop being an angry person, you life will dramatically improve. The following plan has helped me and many of my formerly angry clients:

  • Fully accept that anger hurts you more than it helps. A low-anger life is a happier life.
  • Remember that nearly everyone dislikes angry people: they’re viewed as jerks, out-of-control, at minimum, not likeable. How do you feel about chronically angry people? Is that how you want to be perceived?
  • Do not, for a moment, believe you need to show anger to demonstrate passion. The most successful, efficacious people rarely get angry. For example, watch the government proceedings on C-SPAN. There, you’ll see America’s most influential people: senators, CEOs, top consultants. Even if they’re discussing something as crucial as weapons of mass destruction, the vast majority of them are calm, albeit focused. Focused, definitely yes; angry, no.
  • In most cases, anger-proneness is partly physiological. One client said, “I must have a huge adrenal gland. I go from zero to 60 in one second.” For such people, the most effective anger management technique is to structure your life so you’re less likely to be angry: As much as possible, work alone or with co-workers you respect. Avoid friends who often frustrate you.
  • Go cold turkey. If you allow anger as an option, you’ll too often let yourself be angry, which almost always is a mistake. Calm concern yes; anger no. Ask for what you want, yes; get furious, no. Of course, especially in the beginning, you’ll occasionally slip up, but eventually, you will improve. I used to get angry almost daily. Now, it’s more like every month, and I only reach the yelling point perhaps twice a year.
  • If you wait until you’ve boiled over, you won’t be able to stop yourself. So be alert to your first signs of anger: your face getting flushed, your body tensing, whatever. Every time you start to feel angry with someone, leave the room. Then take five deep breaths and ask yourself, “Is this worth getting angry over?” or “Will this matter a week from now? A year from now?” One of my clients would frequently yell at her second grader for not doing his homework. Worth discussing, yes. Yelling, no. In fact, the yelling only makes the child more resistant.
  • Become more accepting of people. No one is deliberately stupid or insensitive. Most people are doing the best they can; they’re simply flawed, just like you and me. So, substitute “He’s human,” for “What an idiot!”
  • Accept that some things are beyond our control. Substitute, “Stuff happens” for ‘It’s not fair.”
  • Replace your anger with gratitude. Sure, your boss may be insensitive. Sure your job, spouse, or children could be better. But focusing on that half- or even ¾-empty glass only ensures you’ll be an unhappy person. Be grateful for the good. At the risk of sounding like your mother, people really are starving in Africa.
  • don’t fume; improve. Even small steps help. For example, if your job is boring, learn a new skill or pick up a hobby. If your apartment is a pigsty, clean one corner of one room. If you and your spouse are always arguing, agree on how you’ll address one small problem.

Excise anger from your life and you’ll be happier and more successful. I promise.

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