I have a crazy New Year’s Resolution. It’s probably not realistic and possibly not even healthy. My New Year’s Resolution is to not get mad about anything anymore. See? Crazy.
I’m not saying I don’t want to feel sadness or frustration or anything negative. Unpleasant feelings are necessary. If your dog dies or your uncle passes away, it is appropriate to feel sad. If we didn’t feel sad when sad things happen, we would lose touch with our humanity.
The way I plan to stop getting mad is to feel empathy instead of anger; this will bring lightness to my humanity not the opposite.
I am a feelings guru. I grew up watching Oprah. I learned that our feelings are real and important. I love talking about feelings; my feelings, your feelings, my feelings about your feelings, your feelings about my feelings, etc.
When I can tell someone is getting ready to open up to me about something, I get almost giddy in anticipation of hearing about feelings. This is probably why I found a home in life coaching.
But anger…. anger I’ve always had an issue with. I don’t like getting angry and I really don’t like witnessing other people display their anger. It makes me scared that in the heat of the moment, even if I’m not the source of their anger, they will turn on me and start yelling at me.
When I reflect to the moments I am most proud of in my life, the times that come to mind are when I had reason to be mad about something (in my opinion) but I let the other person off the hook. I choose understanding in place of anger. The times I am most ashamed about are the times I’ve been angry at someone who didn’t mean any harm or ill intent.
I recently left my 11-year-old daughter, Chloe, home alone while my other daughter, Lindsey, and I went shopping. We don’t have a land line but Chloe has an old iPod that works for facetiming and texting. I told Chloe we would be gone close to two hours and she needed to keep her iPod handy so I could call and check in on her while she was home alone. I texted her within 5 minutes of leaving just to check the messages were going through and she responded back immediately. Once Lindsey and I were at Target I texted Chloe to check in. No response. I facetimed her, nothing. My messages were being delivered but no response from her. Driving home I was gearing up to give her quite the lecture.
It made me feel badly because I didn’t want to get upset. I also didn’t want to upset her which I knew would happen because she is very sensitive and a really good kid. She never wants to get in trouble.
While making the turn onto our street, I had a brilliant thought, “I could let go of being mad all together.” I could go home, give her a hug and kiss and ask with a smile, “Did you forget to check your messages?” I also realized that it was possible her iPod wasn’t working, it’s very old and temperamental. I could offer understanding and give her the benefit of the doubt, assuming the messages hadn’t gone through.
I wish I could say that is what I did. I wish I could say I choose to react with understanding. But I didn’t. I didn’t lecture, but I didn’t offer understanding and there were tears. The text messages I sent hadn’t gone through and she didn’t get the facetime calls. But I found that out only after I had expressed my disappointment.
The way I see it, giving understanding in place of anger to the people I love makes sense because I believe the best in them. I believe they are considerate and loving people who are human and make mistakes.
Giving understanding to strangers makes sense because it’s none of my business what anyone else does.
For example, a big pet peeve of mine is when people don’t follow the rules. I am a born rule follower and if someone parks illegally, smokes where they aren’t supposed to smoke, bring dogs where dogs aren’t allowed, sits on the steps at gymnastics when there are signs that say, ‘don’t sit on the steps’… it tends to infuriate me. But to be fair, it’s none of my business what other people do (I’ve been told this repeatedly in the past when I give out reminders of the rules to rule-breaking citizens).
Giving understanding to acquaintances makes sense because I know that the way people behave has nothing to do with me. I can’t get upset when other people’s values don’t align with my own values.
An example of this comes from a work function I attended this week. I value consideration and politeness. When asked if I liked the dinner we were all eating, I smiled and said it was good. In all honestly, however, I thought the fish was over-cooked and the salad over-dressed. But overall it was a lovely dinner and a lovely location. When half of the table went up for seconds and I didn’t finish my meal a female coworker made a comment to me about how little I ate and told me I needed to eat more. I smiled and simply said, “I’m fine, thank you.” But she continued to press and then asked if I had at least eaten prior to arriving. Again, I replied, “I’m fine, thank you.”
I felt stuck. I wanted to say I didn’t finish because it didn’t taste good but I felt that would be rude. I would guess that because I am thin, she made the assumption that I don’t eat enough. To comment on how little someone is eating seems as rude as remarking on how much someone is eating. But not everyone cares about being considerate. I can’t expect people I hardly know to care about how their behavior may or may not affect my feelings. If I can do this, I let go of feeling angry. This isn’t only kindness to the other person, it’s saving myself a lot of wasted energy.
It’s a lofty goal, for sure, to let go of anger completely. But the way I see it, even if I can get 20% better, it’s 20% less wasted energy for myself and 20% more kindness to others. That seems worth it.
What are your goals this year? Would you like some help staying on track to achieve them? Sign up for a complimentary session and we can talk about it together.