On a chilly evening 18 years ago, after spending nearly every waking minute with Angel for eight straight days, I knew I had to tell her just one thing.  So late at night, just before she fell asleep, I whispered it in her ear.  She smiled … the kind of smile that makes me smile back.  And she said, “When I’m 75, and I think about my life and what it was like to be young, I hope I can remember this very moment.”

A few seconds later she closed her eyes and fell asleep.  The room was peaceful … almost silent.  All I could hear was the soft purr of her breathing.  I stayed awake thinking about the time we’d spent together and all the choices in our lives that made this moment possible.  And at some point, I realized it didn’t matter what we’d done or where we’d gone.  Nor did the future hold any significance.

The Human Superpower of Calmness

The most fundamental aggression to ourselves and others the most fundamental harm we can do to human nature as a whole on a daily basis is to remain ignorant by not having the awareness or courage to look at ourselves and others honestly and gently.

All day, every day, many of us get annoyed with people and their situations when they fail to live up to our expectations, as if their reality isn’t enough for us and never will be.  We reject these people and their “problems” because they somehow seem different than our own.  We feel like we need something better, something more from them and we scream inside!

We let our emotions and anxieties get the best of us.  And we blind ourselves to the truth …

The truth is, when someone upsets us, this is often because they aren’t behaving according to our fantasy of how they “should” behave.  The frustration, then, stems not from their behavior but from how their behavior differs from our fantasy.  Let this sink in.  And let’s not get carried away going forward. Calmness is a human superpower!

Regardless of the situation, the ultimate measure of our wisdom and strength is how calm we are when facing the situation. The ability to not overreact or take things personally keeps our mind clear and our heart at peace, which instantly gives us the upper hand.

Being Calm Under Pressure

Over the past decade, there’s a way of being Angel and I have gradually been cultivating in ourselves we’ve been taming our tendencies to get angry and irritated with people when their behavior doesn’t match our expectations.

As human beings, again, 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 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 be kind and agreeable, strangers to be less difficult, life to be easier, and so on and so forth and when reality hits us, and everyone and everything seems to be doing the opposite of what we want, we feel pressure inside and then we overreact—anger, frustration, stress, tears, etc.

So what can we do about this?

Breathe … and think better.

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 greatest opportunity.

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 considerate and 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 conducted with our most recent Think Better, Live Better event attendees, overreacting while fighting traffic was the most commonly cited reason for overreacting on a daily basis. 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 they are 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.  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 Angel and I have been cultivating and advocating:

  • To be truly present.
  • To breathe deeply, and often.
  • To remind ourselves that we can’t control other people.
  • To remind ourselves that other people can handle their lives however they choose.
  • To not take their behavior personally.
  • To see the good in them (even when it’s hard).
  • To let go of the ideals and expectations we have about others, and life in general, that causes unnecessary frustration, drama, and bouts of anger.
  • To remember that when others are being difficult, they are often going through a difficult time we know nothing about.  And to give them empathy, love, and space.

“Being” this way—THINKING BETTER—takes practice, but it’s worth it.  It makes us less frustrated, it helps us be more mindful, it improves our relationships, it lowers our stress, and it allows us to make the world a slightly more peaceful place to be and along these lines

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