I drove up to the intersection right outside my building and looked to my left to see if I was clear to cross the one-way street in front of me. I let go of the break and proceeded forward as a woman, who had started to cross in front of me, yells at the top of her lungs,
“ARE YOU #%$! KIDDING ME?!”
Startled, I sheepishly and sincerely mouthed “I’m so sorry,” but I only got the evil look in return.
I was in the wrong. I get it.
I was running a bit behind on time. I was getting ready to cross a one-way street, so I didn’t look to my right to see if a pedestrian was there. Lesson learned.
I thought about this incident for the entire 7 minutes it took me to drive to my lunch meeting because that’s how long it took for my heartbeat to return to normal. I eventually let it go, but I didn’t want to.
I really didn’t want to. I wanted to roll down my window and say something like,
“Give me a break. It was an accident!”
I wanted to stay angry until I could unleash my anger the minute someone asked, “What’s wrong?”
Then I remember the words of Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor:
“Peace is only a thought away.”
The Real Story Behind Staying Angry
Getting angry, staying angry, and unleashing anger on others is a daily problem. At work and at home. it claims lives, relationships, and promising careers.
Yet, according to neuroscientist Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, your anger should only last for 90 seconds.
If your anger lasts for more than 90 seconds, she insists, it is because you are replaying the old story in your mind.
As it turns out, your ability or tendency to stay angry is connected to the communication going on inside your brain because every time you replay the story that triggered the reaction, you re-trigger the circuit and the response over and over again.
In other words, every time you choose to think toxic, painful, or angry thoughts, you create a physical response in your body as well. By replaying the story, you not only keep your mind in a toxic space, but your body experiences the emotion created by the anger or pain again and again.
She emphasizes that no one can make us angry. No one is able to stimulate our emotional neuro-circuitry without our permission first. Our thoughts stimulate our response, not someone else’s. No one can make you angry or act angry without your consent. No one is able to get into your brain and make you feel a particular emotion.
Mindfulness Pivot Moves
When I was growing up, my dad taught me to play chess. Every time I wanted to give up because defeat seemed imminent, he would pick up one of my pieces and with one pivot move I was back in the game. Then he would repeat ten words that encapsulated a powerful principle that has since become the staple of my work:
“One pivot move can change the momentum of the game.”
Choosing not to replay the story that triggered the anger is a pivot move.
Taking a deep breath instead of yelling back is a pivot move.
Assuming positive intentions, because who knows what that person’s day has been like so far, is a pivot move.
And choosing to proceed with grace, giving that person the treatment she hasn’t earned, is a pivot move.