What to do if your cork's about to pop

An important component of wisdom – one of the Seven Pillars identified in Mike Clayton’s new book, Smart tot Wise – is Self-mastery. This knowing who you are and what is important to you, and to build inner strength. Another dimension of this is the ability to control yourself: your actions, and responses, and the extremes of unhelpful emotions like anger – even rage.

When the pressure builds up, you can move, inch by inch, closer to an outbreak of rage. It can explode from you and destroy relationships as well as undermining your reputation. To be seen as wise, you must be able to control this.

The Zen teacher Bankei was asked by a pupil how to cure rage, so he asked the pupil to show it to him. The pupil said that he could not - the rage came unexpectedly, at any time. Bankei concluded that, since the pupil did not have it when he was born, and could not summon it when he wanted it; it could not be a part of his true nature.

You can usually spot the warning signs of anger or rage as it starts to build up in you. It's time to act before it's too late and your calm Dr Jekyll becomes a raging Ms or Mr Hyde.

1. Breathe Deeply

It is amazing how powerful this simplest of actions is, and there are two very good physiological reasons. First, when you get agitated your breathing becomes shallower and faster. Deepening and slowing your breathing sends signals to your brain to indicate calm. Second, the deep breaths bring more oxygen to your brain. It starts to work better and you get a truer perspective on events and your options.

2. Smile

This is another way to send a signal to your brain that all is well. If you literally put a smile on your face, you will find it physically harder to be angry and your brain will further damp down the fires of rage.

3. Get some Perspective

It's easily said, but essential to do. Rage is triggered by a feeling of hurt or injustice, but these things are rarely one sided. Use the SCOPE process to make an objective review of the situation. Stop and Clarify the situation, think through you Options before you Proceed, and then observe the impact you are a having and Evaluate your approach.

Compel yourself to gather the facts and start to analyse them. This will divert attention from the emotional parts of your brain to the rational parts.

4. Change your Shoes

Not literally, of course - although I suspect that taking time to do that would indeed calm your rage; especially if you are a shoe-lover.

If your rage is directed at another person, or you think that someone else has caused it, step into their shoes for a while. Try and see the world as they see it, and you may start to understand that their motivations are not quite what you thought – and are maybe even quite reasonable.

5. Activate your Monty Python Organ

If all else fails, look for the absurdity in the situation. Much of the humour in Monty Python, for example, was predicated on the absurdity other people's rage. Use your imagination to see how anger is not just unconstructive, but absurd.

Defuse your rage by imagining the people around you as clumsy clowns. Picture them with red noses and green hair, in baggy trousers or spotty underwear. Examine the futility of your own rage and have that “OMG moment” before you make yourself look foolish – which would be neither smart not wise.

You Know how important it is

Sitting calmly reading this, you know how futile anger can be and how destructive rage is. Practice thinking of something that gets you mad and then take a deep breath, and smile. Practice visualising others in a ridiculous way and start to make a habit of seeing situations, not just from your own point of view but from two others - an objective fly-on-the-wall and from other people's perspective.

Think how powerful it would be if your knee-jerk response to an insult, a stupidity or a crass action were to breathe deeply, smile, and remain calm. Think how wise it would be to rise above those situations where the smart people get angry.

Smart to Wise is the latest book by Dr Mike Clayton. Learn more about the journey from Smart to Wise at www.smarttowise.co.uk and sign up for daily wisdom tweets @smart2wise.

Author's Bio: 

Mike Clayton has been searching for wisdom for all of his life. He is fascinated by all branches of knowledge, from management theory to theoretical physics, from linguistics to psychology, and from history to philosophy. Learning is more than an objective, it’s a life-long mission.