Keep Calm and Kill No One: The Tips, Tricks, and Mantras I use to Keep my Temper in Check
I’d like to pretend I’m a kind-hearted Zen master 100% of the time, but I’m not that saintly. And people can be awful. Unless you live your life in a cocoon, never leaving the house or opening a single webpage, you’re guaranteed to come across people who wake up your inner rage. If you work retail, take public transit or read the comment section on any website, you know exactly what I mean. It can feel like some people know how to push all your buttons and have your temper on speed dial.
If you’ve got a short fuse like me, you’ve definitely had days that you wanted to kill perfect strangers for getting on your nerves. The number of times I’ve had to talk myself out of doing something crazy is embarrassingly high: the time I almost swung my grocery-laden gym bag at the lady who kept pushing me on the bus; or when I almost sent a very strongly worded email to an unbelievably rude professor; or the hundreds of times I wanted to throw my headset across the room and quit my call center job.
I’m not going to lie, I can’t always keep the lid on my anger, but usually the relief of boiling over is quickly followed by the regret of letting rage win. Losing your cool isn’t always an option. I’m not cut out for jail, so an assault case would never do. It’s not always wise to go head to head with the people who grade your papers or cut your cheques. And bills have to be paid, so headsets must remain firmly on my head.
My coworkers have probably heard me murmuring under my breath in the middle of a horrendous call. I probably look like a crazy person mumbling to myself, but it’s exactly that mumbling that kept me employed. At some point (that I can’t quite pin down), I discovered the power of mantras. The Sanskrit definition of the word is “an instrument of thought, an object of concentration, a truism.”
Mantras are typically used in eastern religious practices, and are often meant to assist with meditation. The idea is that it allows you to focus your mind and shut out intrusive thoughts. Makes perfect sense then that it’s used as an anger management technique. You’re meant to repeat it over and over to redirect your mind away from your rage.
One that’s commonly recommended is “Let it go.” It’s pretty universal and could work in most situations but I’ve found it helpful to get a little more specific to the situation I’m dealing with. When I'm dealing with unreasonable customers I continuously remind myself that “No argument is worth my paycheque.” In a similar vein, I like to recall that "If I lose my cool, they win." In an altercation with a customer, I'm the one whose job is on the line, so I'm not doing myself any favours by giving in to my anger.
It's a little bit different when I'm dealing with total strangers because they have no control over my livelihood. The playing field is a little more even and the temptation to just tear into a random person is much easier to succumb to. In those cases, I appeal to my personal pride with a reminder that "I am bigger than this." When that fails, I get all the way real with myself with a reminder that "jail is not my platform."
Since I started my entrepreneurial side hustle, I've encountered my fair share of difficult clients. Being an entrepreneur means I'm the boss, so there's no one to fire me, but flying off the handle is still not wise. In those cases, I talk myself into a better attitude with "I am cool, I am calm, I am in control." And a new personal favourite, "New levels brings new devils," helps me remember that every step towards my goals means learning to take on and conquer new challenges.
Now the mantras aren't foolproof. Sometimes no amount of mental “Kumbaya” is enough to deal with some people and situations. In those cases, I've learned that if you can walk away, you get to stepping. If it won’t matter in a week, a day, or a few hours, I don’t sweat it.
But working in a call center means some of the most frustrating people I deal with are people I can't walk away from. In those cases, a lot of deep breathing--the in through the nose out through the mouth kind--comes in handy. I've also learned to hit the pause button. Taking a minute before responding allows me a chance to think of an alternative to the sharp-tongued comment I would prefer to give. And once I've soldiered through the situation, I take a well-deserved break (usually to rant to the mirror in the bathroom).
Whether I talk to myself in my head, or breathe through it like a woman in labour, at the end of the day, all that matters is that I keep calm long enough to not make a mistake with real consequences.
I'd love to hear from you guys: what techniques do you use to keep your temper in check?