What follows is an excerpt from my book, Navigate Chaos, available October 10 on Amazon. I hope excerpt helps you understand how your reactions affect your disposition.
Several years ago, my family gave me a “Dammit Doll” for Christmas. I opened the present in front of my wife, children, and extended family. They sheepishly laughed, as I pulled it out of the box and read the inscription:
“Whenever things don’t go so well,
And you want to hit the wall and yell,
Here’s a little dammit doll
That you cannot do without
Just grasp it firmly by the legs
And find a place to slam it
And as you whack the stuffing out
Yell “Dammit! Dammit! Dammit”
Later, I thought more deeply about this little gag gift. I stopped seeing the humor. Rather, it was clear that my children saw me being angry...or as they say, “raging.” I decided to do what I often do, observe and write.
I spent the next two weeks observing my reactions. I noted the people, places, things, or circumstances that caused me to react in a positive or negative manner. I noted the impact my reactions had on me physically and mentally. I decided not to judge my reactions. Rather, I just wrote them in my journal. Below are two of the more prominent entries:
On my way home from work today, traffic was extra heavy. I could feel my chest tighten as tension grew in my body. I wanted desperately to be home. I was stressed and needed to decompress. I tried to change lanes on multiple occasions. It only made matters worse. I became me more frustrated. Eventually, I came upon the accident that was holding up traffic. How dare I complain.
I spent two hours this afternoon working on a proposal for work from my home office. I was on a roll and creating good content. Then the “spinning wheel” appeared on my screen. MS Word locked up. I slammed the desk and cursed. The wheel remained. I mumbled aloud and punched the escape key multiple times. In my haste, I rebooted the computer only to discover that I’d lost approximately the last half hour of my work. I cursed again, only louder this time, and brashly left the office only to find both kids glancing my way from the next room timidly. What kind of example am I?
To my credit, there were several more positive reactions noted in my journal as well. In most such cases, I was interacting directly with other people. When my son spilled a cup of milk, I calmly explained that these things happen and helped to clean the mess. When a colleague at work made a mistake, I thanked him for acknowledging the mistake, shared a similar story of my own, and offered to help rectify the error.
Following two weeks and sixteen journal entries, I examined my list for commonality. Two things immediately jumped out at me. First, I’m impatient with things that slow my progress. I’m efficient and driven to produce and any things that slow my progress generate a negative reaction. Such circumstances occasionally cause me to raise my voice (yell), curse, or both—something I otherwise never do. Worse yet, my children see it and hear it.
The second observation is that I’m patient with people. I typically allow people much more grace and understanding. If people slow down my progress, I’m much more forgiving. If behaviors need to be corrected, I provide feedback in an empathetic manner.
While this second observation is good, I had to dig deeper into the rationale. I’m guessing that my calm reaction to people is tightly connected to my tendency to be a people-pleaser. Likewise, it may reflect my desire not to be judged as impatient. Am I simply better hiding my internal frustrations to present the image that I want you to have of me?
Regardless of the answer to my question, I knew that I had to address my patience or lack thereof. I took intentional steps and had made considerable progress. As my children will attest, I experience the occasional relapse. Now, instead of cursing the world for imposing upon me such awful circumstances, I am thankful for not-so-subtle reminders to “CEEK a Better Way.”
I encourage you to consider the people, places, things, or circumstances that generate strong emotional reactions in you. Capture the circumstances and your thoughts in your journal. Assess the situations and search for commonality. Assess the underlying motivation or objective that drives the reaction. Don’t judge that motivation for it will tell you much about yourself. Prepare to dig deep into how such motivations and reactions affect your disposition. How you show up in the world will have a significant impact on your pursuit of healthy balance as it directly impacts your self-esteem, the health of your relationships, and personal fulfillment.