Anger: Great warning system, lousy fuel

Anger gets a bad rap these days.

We’re told that we can’t be angry, that it doesn’t have a place in a peaceful, productive life.

But anger is as much a part of the human experience as breathing, sleeping or salted popcorn and denying it misses the whole point of its utility. It’s only when we use anger for the wrong purpose that it becomes problematic.

It’s like a sharp kitchen knife – great for cutting vegetables, but unhelpful for other household chores, like bathing children.

Anger is an amazing warning system. It tells us when something we care about is under threat. When used in this way, it allows us to take faster action to protect what’s important to us.

And since it’s not just physical items or people which make us angry – we can also use anger as a tool to understand what we’re sensitive about. We see this when we become angry at something surprising – and we become aware how attached we’ve become to something, only when we experience the prospect of losing it.

Making full use of anger involves recognising and acknowledging it, but then letting it go before taking any action. And letting it go is the key step.

We quickly get into hot water when we act without first letting go of our anger, as it becomes the fuel for our action.

When anger compel us, it limits our options. Possibilities which are open when we’re calm are off the table when anger is the fuel we’re burning.

Anger makes us more likely to deal with a situation, but strips us of the tools we need to make it a success.

The trick, is to spot as soon as it arrives, and then let it go before we do or say anything we’ll regret later. When we let anger fuel our actions, we’re essentially stomping around the house, waving a sharp knife and wondering why things aren’t going so well.

Not making a choice is still a choice

Not making a choice is a vote for the status quo – it reinforces existing structures.

Not making a choice transfers both the burden and the power of that decision to others – and they may not thank you for it.

Not making a choice invites circumstances to dictate your future options.

Not making a choice should be a deliberate decision, or avoided entirely – it should neither be the default, nor an accident.

Not making a choice is often the worst choice of all.

The best use of your time

time-by-stefanos-papachristou

Simon and Garfunkel said it best (although I prefer The Bangles’ version):

Time time time, see what’s become of me.

We are a product of what we choose to do with our time.

It’s our most precious resource, but we don’t often respect it as such.

We fritter it away as if it’s worth nothing – seemingly unaware of it’s power and value.

There are so many activities and distractions which appear free, but for the time they require.

What we don’t realise, is that time is the primary investment we’re making, in anything. Money comes and goes, but time only goes. There is no way of getting more when we’re running low.

Perhaps this is what makes it difficult. We can never really know how much time we have, so we’re unable to properly value it.

According to the Death Clock, I have about 18 000 days left to run, but even if that’s true, it’s not an easy number to work with. It’s hard to know how to use that information to make better decisions.

We always have trouble valuing things we can’t see, or touch, or roll around in our hands. I’m sure God (if she exists) would agree.

And I’m not saying that we should hoard our time, or be miserly with it when it comes to others, but we should spent it deliberately and wisely.

We should guard against the mass of minutes we give away mindlessly to the activities and pursuits which make life better for nobody. Not ourselves, not our friends, not the strangers around us.

Now that you’ve read this – great. But what’s the next, best use or your precious time?

I’d like to say it’s reading another one of my posts, but that’s complete bullshit. There’s undoubtably someone important to you who doesn’t know how much you care about them.

Why not make telling them, a conscious, deliberate, use of your precious time?

Remember to skin your cats!

cat_by_Mohamed_Aymen_Bettaieb

We each have millions of cats in our lives and a similar number of ways to skin them.

When do you wake up? That’s a cat.

Do you eat meat? That’s a cat.

Do you have a fourth beer on a Thursday night? That’s a cat.

It’s easy for us to forget that each of these cats is a choice we get to make.

The reason it’s easy to overlook is that we’ve long since outsourced most routine choices to established patterns of behaviour.

In order to avoid choice overload every moment, we rely on habits, patterns and behaviours that we’ve formed in the past to ease the cognitive load as we go about our day.

Unfortunately for us, we form habits in the same way that evolution picks survivors – it doesn’t optimise for what is the best, it settles for what is the least shitty option that’s come so far.

We figure out what works just enough to survive and we run with that.

It’s a great system in one way: it allows us to function across a broad spectrum of activities without getting lost in the detail. But it also means that we can be stuck with mediocre or even bad choices for a long time if we don’t remember to review our automatic behaviours and check that they still work for us.

I’m not saying we don’t want or need habits – they’re vital to our productivity – I’m just saying that we should be aware of them, check them and update them if necessary.

There are cats we’re still flaying by hand, despite the fact that we’re now the proud owners of the Skin-o-matic 6000TM

The trick is recognising the choices we’ve long since forgotten to make. They can be well camouflaged, and many will be rusted into a single position, taking time and attention to unjam.

You might not want to change what you eat, why you respond to stress or how you skin a cat, but if you do – you’ll need to keep your eyes open.

Changing our choices and behaviours isn’t the work of a moment, but can be one of the most rewarding projects there is.

*No cats were harmed in the writing of this post (but I’m obviously a dog person)

Moving closer to discomfort

A bed of rusty nails, pointing up

Our natural response to discomfort is to move away from it – quickly.

It’s a reflex, designed to protect us from things which make us feel bad. From the things which threaten our wellbeing.

But in many ways, it’s a maladaptive behaviour – it has not evolved to suit our currently physical or social environment. These days, how many things uncomfortable things in our life will get better if we just walk away from them?

When it comes to discomfort, we can choose to be more deliberate. We can feel it, acknowledge and then, before making a decision about what to do with it – we can choose to examine it. To understand it. To know where it comes from. What is generating it.

We’re obsessed with the provenance of our food and our clothes (where did they come from? Are they organic?), but we don’t seem to give a shit when it comes to our our feelings, especially discomfort.

Once we know where the discomfort actually comes from, then we can make better decisions about how best to deal with it.

It might be that the best thing to do is move away from it. But that should be a choice, not a reflex – and we can only make that choice, if we get closer discomfort in the first place.