Lose Your Cool Lose Your Life

He who is of calm and happy nature will hardly feel the pressure of age, but to him who is of an opposite disposition youth and age are equally a burden.
Plato

It is said that you resist what you need the most. So for example if you are reading an article and skip a paragraph about patience, you had better take note of your actions. Are you the kind of person that could do with more patience.

However it is also said that when the student is ready the teacher will come. So if you find yourself gravitating towards something it could be that you are finally ready. A teacher need not be a wizened old person carrying a beatific smile and wearing white clothes. It could be anyone, anything, even your own past experiences if you are prone to reflection.

One funny thing is that you may not even realize you are ready.

One of my teachers came to me in the form of a 100 year old book. I was struck by a couple of concepts in the book but one that kept lingering in my mind was a brief chapter on serenity or calmness of mind. When I first read this chapter I nodded my head in agreement but it did not register much impact on me. The concept was still in my intellectual domain. But it lingered and simmered and slowly leached into my subconsciousness.

Growing up I was a typical kid of the culture and times. I used to throw tantrums when I did not get what I wanted, because I was used to getting what I wanted. But I was never a mean spirited or short tempered kid. The picture changed as I became a teenager. I still recall a particular incident with embarrassment. I was at a kiosk to make a call ( no cell phones in that era). I don’t recall why I lost my temper but lost it I did with the woman operating the kiosk. Things came to such a pass that the agitated woman got up ready to hit me. The ignominy of it.

You get what you put in. You put in anger you receive anger.

While that incident was an exception I ended up harboring a particular kind of belligerence well into my early adulthood. It was an odd combination, I was a reserved person that generally tended not to speak up. However it was a different me when I felt slighted or at the receiving end of injustice. I reacted passionately and a bit accusatory.  One of my managers put it better when he called me a lightning rod for all kinds of disquiet. I had everything, excellent academic grades, work ethic, ambition, delivered results consistently but not … calmness of mind. And that showed up, at work, at home and in my health.

It is tough to change who you are and while I am still a work in progress I have noticed a difference for the better. One important distinction I realized is that being calm of mind does not make you lose your drive to succeed in life. Instead it gives you a potent edge.

A few points about staying cool

The 90/10 rule applies

Stephen Covey said that only 10% of your outcome is determined by what happens to you. 90% by how you respond. And I would venture to say that 90% of the 90% would be impacted by how calm you were. As I said earlier humans are reacting machines. You smile at them and they will most likely smile back. I smiled at a total stranger at a restaurant, a couple of years ago. We have been good friends since that day. You get angry with them, they are likely to get defensive or angry.

Get out of the tunnel

Mental agitation can also be caused by obsessing over one fixed thing. I used to obsess about working on the latest technology in order to grow as an IT resource. My tunnel vision caused me to lose perspective. I now have several other passions that have greatly balanced me. Setbacks and upsets in one area no longer derail my mental state.

Count your blessings

This is an excellent way to stay calm and feel blessed. Unless you are a small child and dealing with your parents do you honestly think you stand a chance getting what you want by being a miserable bastard. Staying positive, thinking constructively, offering options, carefully analyzing the obstacles … all these give you a better chance.

At one point in my career I had a lot of things to complain about. Getting stuck despite my stellar track record, being passed over for promotion etc. Then I realized it was better to get stuck at work than in the unemployment line! I went about my work little realizing what I had become until my mentor commented on my positive attitude.

It gets you thinking

We humans were the first automatic machines to be invented :) We live our lives unconsciously like sleepwalkers. But especially when overcome by strong emotions we give away control to our Amygdala, the lizard part of our brain. So called because that was the first to develop. This part controls our ‘flight or fight’ response. This I can tell from personal experience is hardly the way to draw the best out of you. Calmness of mind gives our pre frontal cortex (PFC) a chance to think and save us from ourselves. The PFC is called the executive portion of our brain, a flattering reference to how corporate executives use reasoning and logic to manage affairs. The PFC sits at the front of the brain.

I had a PFC experience several years ago that I still remember because it was so memorable. On that day I was desperately trying to locate something. Not finding it I was about to descend into my normal routine, anger and finger pointing at my spouse, when instead I decided to stay calm and detached. Within a few minutes I was able to recall where I last left it and recovered it triumphantly.

Lose your cool lose your life

Getting angry with all and sundry can invite a violent response and cut short your life. I remember a tragic incident from the news about a young man returning from the bar after celebrating his birthday with friends. It was late at night in NewYork city when he got into an argument with another driver at a traffic signal. He was shot to death.

But this is not even what I am referring to here. Research has determined conclusively that chronic anger cuts your life short.

 


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