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What the Walking Dead Taught Me About Emotional Maturity

Emotion drives so much of how we operate. Control how it affects your behavior, and you can better handle whatever chaos comes your way.

You know that feeling where even the smallest things make you want to scream?

20 million.

20,000,000.

Twenty-million.

  • That’s more than the population of Los Angeles, Chicago, or Dallas.
  • More than the population of London, Paris, or Bangalore.
  • And, more than the populations of Washington DC, Philadelphia, and Miami…combined.

It’s a big number. So what is it?

The number of people estimated to have seen at least one episode of the Walking Dead.

The Walking Dead, of course, is AMC’s weekly serial about a zombie apocalypse and how societies and lives change when faced with the resulting State of Nature.

You might think a show about a zombie apocalypse is about…well…zombies. I mean, it makes perfect sense, right?

“OF COURSE THE WALKING DEAD IS ABOUT ZOMBIES!”

Nope. It’s not. 

The Walking Dead is about emotional maturity.

Emotional maturity: the ability to be in control of your emotional state.

And, there are lessons in it that can help you get more control over your emotions.

Why is this such a big deal?

Emotion drives so much of how we operate. If you can control how it affects your behavior—or not—in any particular circumstance, you can become better equipped to handle whatever chaos comes your way.

It all came to me this morning on my way into work. Let me explain.

Zombies.

They’re everywhere…

In the Walking Dead, as in life, you have two types of people.

1. Those that freak out over zombies.

2. Those that do what’s necessary to live among the zombies.

…especially on the roads.

In the Washington, DC Metro region where I live, work, and play, there’s a ton of traffic. It rarely matters the time of your drive…you just know before you get in the car…

You’re gonna hit traffic.

This is especially true during the hours you’d expect.

When I leave for the office around 7:30 or so—I know it’s going to take me about 45 minutes to get into work. Traffic is a fact of life, and I’ve learned to deal with it.

So this morning, I’m in traffic on the main drag—the Capital Beltway—and it’s kinda moving…and kinda not. I want to pass this slow-moving car in front of me. Traffic is chugging along at about 30 mph, but slow-moving guy? He’s doing 20.

So I pop on my turn signal and check my mirrors.

There’s a big, red pick-up truck about three car lengths behind me on my left…plenty of room to move on over! So what do I do? I move on ov…HONNNNNNNNNK!!!

Big Red Pick-up Driver is picking up speed as his horn blares. I look in my rear-view…

I had plenty of room. I used a turn signal, and I moved over one lane to the left to pass a slower car. That’s it.

Apparently, it’s the end of the world to Big Red Pick-up Driver…a personal affront. As the horn blares, the bright lights flash. Then the arms start to flail…WTF?!?

Me? I want no part of this. Road rage ain’t my bag, baby. I’m getting rid of this guy.

I speed up a bit and carefully navigate around some cars.

Crisis averted.

I am now far off from the big, red pick-up.

Mission accomplished.

And then, it’s not.

What’s this? Big Red Pick-up Driver has sped up, too? He’s now following me, and cutting off anyone in his way to catch up. Some exit lanes split off, and we’re coming up fast on the split in the road. One lane exits the Beltway…the other—my lane—continues straight.

Moments before the split, he cuts me off, slams on his breaks, and then immediately accelerates before turning off at the exit, never to be seen again.

But, prior, he delivers a parting gift: A flip of the bird and a scream of what I only can imagine is a loud, vulgar phrase. It rhymes with duck stew.

Big Red Pick-up Driver is pissed. I rarely see anyone so angry.

Me? I shrug. And continue my drive to work.

Zombies.

They’re everywhere…

Big Red Pick-up Driver may have been in a fit of unjustified road rage. And, he may have wreaked havoc if I returned the sentiment.

And, at the very least, the rest of my ride…my morning…perhaps even my day…could have been ruined by the behavior and actions of a zombie.

I won’t be infected by the virus.

I choose—quite purposefully—to remain calm and collected…cool and in control.

If you look around, zombies are everywhere…

In the Walking Dead as in life, you have two types of people.

  1. Those that freak out over zombies.
  2. Those that do what’s necessary to live among the zombies.

In other words,

  1. Those that freak out over something disturbing that has become a fact of life.
  2. Those that recognize they cannot change everything and everyone, and learn how to adapt to the presence.

And this…my fine friends…is why I now see the Walking Dead everywhere.

If I have the ability to control my emotion in stressful circumstances, I do more than stay calm:

  • I think straight.
  • I don’t regret behavior or action later.
  • I have an advantage over those that cannot keep it together.

Is it easy? Not always.

It takes lots of restraint.

And, lots of practice.

Getting enough sleep helps too.

And, when zombies—anyone or anything that could affect my state of mind for no good reason—appear, I’m now better prepared to deal with them and move on with my life.

I’ve found this to be an incredibly useful and productive exercise.

Think of all those things you can’t control that have the potential to get you going…

  • Difficult circumstances
  • Toxic people
  • Big, red pick-up trucks

…and imagine you could detach from the emotion that typically accompanies them.

This is the exercise. Though not an easy thing to master, the first step is fairly easy:

Become aware of the zombies in your life.

Try it!

Take a look around today.

I bet you’ll see more zombies than you ever thought existed.

This post originally appeared on LinkedIn.

— — —

Zach Messler is a writer and communicator with “…an uncanny instinct for the right thing to say and how to say it.”

He does not always type in the third person.

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