255 – The WISER Model

How well do you manage your emotions? Do you feel like you’re on top of things or do you feel like you let situations get under your skin? Today I want to talk about a model I came across that can be a useful tool for managing your emotions, and handling situations like a stoic.

"Anger, if not restrained, is frequently more hurtful to us than the injury that provokes it."

— Seneca

The Harvard Study of Adult Development, is a longitudinal study that was started in 1938. Researchers followed the same cohort for more than eighty years to gather information about quality of life. Every few years the participants were interview and subjected to a physical to track both mental and physical health.

The Good Life, a book by Robert Waldinger & Marc Schulz based on the data from the Harvard study, and were able two important conclusions:

First, was that those who handled the emotions better by facing them head on and not trying to repress or ignore them, generally reported a higher quality of life and better memories of the past.

Second, it is incredibly challenging for people to change their emotional responses. They found that it didn’t come down to willpower or intelligence, but rather their awareness of their coping patterns.

In studying those that managed their emotions in a healthy fashion, they found that there was a similar pattern amongst them. They call this the WISER model, and I’m going to explain it here.


When a strong emotion comes along, the first thing we need to do is engage our awareness. Usually our first reaction is based on an impulse and not a clear understanding of the full situation. When we give ourselves some space to get curious and just observe what’s going on, and see how we’re feeling, we can get a fuller picture of what’s really happening.

Waldinger and Schulz write, “Thoughtful observation can round out our initial impressions, expand our view of a situation, and press the pause button to prevent a potentially harmful reflexive response.”


"It is not events that disturb people, it is their judgments concerning them."

— Epictetus

Once we have some more information, we need to interpret what we learned from observation. Often, situations are ambiguous and we jump to all sorts of conclusions. By asking what assumptions we made about the situation, we can quickly see were we misinterpreted what someone said or meant, or see what meaning we gave to something.


The Select stage is where we make a choice of what we want to do about the situation. This step should be a thoughtful and deliberate choice, and not reactive or impulsive. This is where we try to slow things down so that we can make choices that are inline with our values, and that have a better long term outcome.

"The key,” according to Waldinger and Schulz, “is to try to slow things down where you can, zoom in, and move from a fully automatic response to a more considered and purposeful response that aligns with who you are and what you are seeking to accomplish.”


Once you have made a choice, it’s time to put it into action. This part is can be challenging because it may mean that you have put yourself in an uncomfortable but necessary situation. But if you have taken the time to make a deliberate choice, this will be easier to do than if you are acting reflexively and will have better outcome than just ignoring the situation.


"The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control."

— Epictetus

The last step is to reflect on how things went. Did our plan work out as expected? Why or why not? What could we have done that might have been more effective? Taking the time to think about how things went helps inform us of how we can better handle things in the future. Even if we handle a situation well, this is a good step to take because it helps us to reinforce our good choices, as well as find even more room for improvement.


Dealing with strong emotions in the heat of the moment is not easy, and is something that we all need to work on. For me, I really like having an acronym that helps me walk through a useful process. When we’re struggling in the moment, it’s always helpful to have another tool at the ready. So go out and be a little Wiser.

Hello friends! Thank you for listening. Stop by the website at where you can sign up for our newsletter, and buy some great looking shirts and hoodies at the Stoic Coffee Shop.

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Thanks again for listening.

Anger conflict philosophy stoicism

196 – How To Win An Argument

How to Win an Argument
How to Win an Argument

How do you win an argument? All of us have to deal with conflict in our lives. To think otherwise is completely unrealistic. But when we have an argument, what is our goal? What do we hope to achieve? To change the other person’s mind? To prove that we are right?

Today I want to talk about why we argue, and the best way to win an argument.

It is possible to curb your arrogance, to overcome pleasure and pain, to rise above your ambition, and to not be angry with stupid and ungrateful people — yes, even to care for them.

— Marcus Aurelius

Why do people argue? If you asked most people, they would probably tell you that they don’t like to argue, that they don’t like conflict. But if this is the case, why do we have so many arguments as humans? But so much of what we read, see, and hear in our media is people arguing about what they see as the “right way” for things to be done or how someone else is wrong.

The nature of conflict

At its core, the main reason we have so much conflict is that we each experience a distinct reality. Every person in the world has a unique perspective on reality. This is a combination of so many factors including their past experiences, biological makeup, current state of mind, education, and general outlook on the world. External factors include the culture they live in, the culture they grew up in, the language they speak, the country they live in, and their physical environment, to name a few.

Because of the large number of variables to go to make up a persons perspective on reality, no two people are ever going to see the world in the same way, and there is bound to be conflict in any area of life as people interact with each other. The only way to completely avoid conflict with others is to completely avoid all contact with any other person.

In religion, people have settled on a set of beliefs that strongly influence what they believe about the world. Some believe that there is a grey-haired man in the sky who is watching every action you take and knows every thought you think and is judging you for every thought and action, and will punish you once you die. Some claim that because of thoughts and actions of others, bad things happen as a punishment from god. Hurricanes, tornadoes, and even earthquakes are a manifestation of this god’s wrath upon one part of humanity for the alleged sins of another part of humanity. This capricious nature of some higher power that would punish people for the sins of others is one thing that drove me from religion.

When it comes to politics, peoples political views are strong enough for them to take actions that can be highly detrimental to those less fortunate, have the wrong skin color, or speak a different language. We find people on opposite sides of the political spectrum holding wildly different ideas about how things should be run. Often we see how people will often oppose an idea, not on its merits but because the other side supports the idea. They may even believe the idea is good, but are completely unwilling to support it simply because their side did not propose it.

Some people believe that there is a certain hierarchy of humans based upon factors such as education, family, class, money. Some believe that there is a ruling class and that others are simply meant to be ruled. Some believe that others are born inferior, based upon their family, race, sex, or gender identity and therefore are lesser beings. This often leads them to act in ways where they feel they have privileges not afford to others. When someone fundamentally believes that they have the right to control another person without their consent, there’s bound to be conflict.

In our personal relationships we find that most of our conflicts arise from when we believe that the other person’s ideas or actions are incorrect and we try to change them. When we feel like we have the right to coerce others to change their opinion or change their actions, we’re going to have issues. We are trying to control something that we do not have control over. We might think that because of our relationship with this person we have that right. This happens frequently with romantic partners. We might find that we disagree with our partners on something that we find troubling. Maybe they have a point of view about something that we think is just plain illogical or frivolous. Even so, we do not have the right to coerce them either through arguments or physical means into chaining their minds simply because we disagree with them.

In the case of parents, depending on the level of maturity, we have the duty to take care of our children. We need to take care of their physical needs, and do our best to teach them how to manage in the world. But even though we are in charge of them, we do not have the right to force our children to change their opinions to suit us. Our job as parents is to teach them how to form their own opinions and teach them the skills they need to survive in the world. The less we focus on making sure they have the right opinions, and help them understand how to form opinions and apply critical thinking to the world, the better they’ll be able to cope with the challenges of life. They may have less experience, and may not have skills in many areas, but this does not mean that we have the right to violate their personal autonomy. When you beat your kids or verbally abuse them, your are violating their person, and trying to force them into conforming to your will. You are trying to control something you cannot control. Think about how many times your parents told you something, and you just agreed with them to avoid an argument, even though you did not agree with them. Beating your children as punishment causes trauma in your kids that is not easily remedied. As the provider and protector of children, your children should not fear you, but should be able to lean on you to get their physical, mental, and emotional needs met, and to help them learn how to navigate the world

“As you move forward along the path of reason, people will stand in your way. They will never be able to keep you from doing what’s sound, so don’t let them knock out your goodwill for them. Keep a steady watch on both fronts, not only for well-based judgments and actions, but also for gentleness with those who would obstruct our path or create other difficulties. For getting angry is also a weakness, just as much as abandoning the task or surrendering under panic. For doing either is an equal desertion— the one by shrinking back and the other by estrangement from family and friend.”

— Marcus Aurelius

How To Win An Argument

First and foremost, we need to accept that we all have a different version of reality.

Second, we need to recognize that we do not have the right to force anyone else to agree with or believe in our version of reality.

Third, we need to understand our goal for the argument. Are we trying to convince someone of the rightness of our position and the wrongness of theirs? I know that if someone if trying to push me over to their opinion, I almost automatically resist. If they aren’t interested in why I hold the opinion I do, then it makes it really hard to want to listen to what they have to say. It says right off the bat that they think I’m wrong and they’re setting out to prove it. No one likes to feel this way.

The other thing is that if you don’t understand why a person believes what they do, you won’t be able to address the factors that caused them to believe it in the first place. Often, when you listen and try to understand why they hold their opinion, they may even discover the flaws in it, and you may discover flaws in your own thinking.

I propose that the goal of any argument you have is that you act honorably. That upon reflection, you can feel good about your behavior. For me, that includes not yelling or name calling. It means listening to why they feel the way they do. It means that I care that something bothered the other person. It does not mean that I have to do anything about it. It does mean that I have concern that something bothered them. That’s it. I don’t have to agree with them, but I should care.

If you are unwilling to be open to changing your opinions, why should you expect someone else to be willing? Remember, the only thing you can control is your thinking, your opinions – not anyone else’s.

Any time we deal with other people in any situation, there will be conflict. We will never agree with someone else 100% of the time. It’s just not possible, nor is it going to help you grow. If your goal is to act honorably, with compassion and caring and not just to change another person’s mind, then you can win any argument.

Hello friends! Thank you for listening. If you like what you hear, head on over to and help support this podcast by becoming a patron. Also stop by the website at where you can sign up for our newsletter, and buy some great looking shirts and hoodies at the Stoic Coffee Shop. Also, if you know of someone that would benefit from or appreciate this podcast, please share it. Word of mouth is the best way to help this podcast grow. Thanks again for listening.

Anger Awareness Coffee Break

149 – The Vocabulary of Anger

The Vocabulary of Anger

I talk a lot on this podcast about anger because it’s something that I’ve been working to manage in my own life. And today, I want to talk about the language of anger, and about learning to redefine and talk about anger in a different way.

For those that struggle with anger, we often get stuck in a bad pattern of mismanaging how we deal with strong, negative emotions. Something comes up and kicks off your fight or flight instinct kicks up and you find reacting in a way that is way out of proportion to the situation. And the worst part is that we often feel so helpless like it’s a split second reaction to things that are happening around you. You often go from 0 to 60 in just a moments notice. Often, that response is left over programming from things that you had little control over as you were growing up. Trauma can miscalibrate our ability to read a situation properly. Something that might just be annoying or frustrating gets treated with the same level as something more threatening.

And it sucks.

Once you finally get back in control of yourself, you feel like shit and feel ashamed of your behavior. You feel like you’re a bad person. You feel like you’re broken. You feel like it’s just one more instances showing that you fail at being the kind of person that you want to be. You feel unworthy, unlovable, worthless. That your failing as a human being.

And it sucks.

And after you blow up, you just want to hide. You want to push everyone away because you don’t feel worthy of being loved by others. You feel damaged at the core. Maybe even irredeemable.

So what do you do?

“When you have been compelled by circumstances to be disturbed in a manner, quickly return to yourself and do not continue out of tune longer than the compulsion lasts.”

— Marcus Aurelius

You listen to that anger. You sit with it and listen. You can question it. “Am I doing this to cause hurt, or is it really what I feel about this situation?” Because if you really feel that strongly about something, then maybe that anger is telling you something important. It is something that you should listen to. Maybe it’s anger at injustice. Maybe it’s anger at how someone else it treating you, and you really do need to take some action. If something upsets you that much, it should not be ignored.

Part of the problem, when we ignore our anger and feel bad about feeling any anger, at least for me, I feel terrible after I feel angry about anything. Even when it’s something that is probably okay for me to feel angry about. Because there are things that we should feel angry about, but when we blow up at seemingly trivial things, we start to feel shame towards any anger. Appropriate anger and inappropriate anger get lumped in the same pile.

And it’s hard sometimes when you’re caught up in it to know the difference. But when you’re in an argument and you feel that urge to just lash out, and you can catch it, count to 5 or even 10 before you say it. And ask yourself, “Do I REALLY mean what I’m going to say?” And if you do, then say it. Maybe try to say it in a way that is not confrontational. Maybe try to say it softly.

But if the compulsions that you have are things that you are doing or saying only to cause harm or to push someone’s buttons, then it’s probably better that you stop and sit with them a while. Give yourself some time to cool down. Take a break.

Being a stoic about anger doesn’t mean that we don’t feel it. It means that we learn to manage it. That we don’t let it ruin our lives. That we learn how to communicate what we feel in more productive and helpful ways. That we find new tools to talk about these things.

“For if anger listens to reason and follows where reason leads, then it is already not anger, of which obstinacy is a proper quality; if, however, it fights back and does not become quiet when it has been ordered, but is carried forward by its desire and ferocity, then it is as useless a servant of the soul as a soldier who disregards the signal for falling back. And thus, if it suffers a measure to be applied to itself, then it must be called by a different name, and it ceases to be anger, which I understand to be unrestrained and untamable.”

— Seneca

And what I think Seneca is telling us here is that we should learn how to label things better than just anger. It’s kind of like the old saying, if you only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. If you only know how to be angry in one way, or to express distress, irritation, annoyance, sadness, depression as anger, then you can’t deal with these strong emotions in an appropriate and useful way.

So what are some of the tools that we have? I think the biggest thing is to expand our vocabulary on our emotions. Rather then everything boiling down to anger, can we learn to identify more nuanced emotions. Maybe what we’re really feeling is frustration, or humiliation, or rejection. If we can learn to better identify what we’re really feeling, then we can start finding different ways of viewing the feelings we’re having.

When we can identify our emotions better we can see that dealing with annoyances is different than how we deal with frustration or resentment. But if we only have one word for it, then we don’t deal with effectively.

On my website, I created a worksheet that I’m calling the emotional vocabulary worksheet and basically what it is, it’s an exercise you can go through when you’re dealing with the strong emotion. And maybe you are in a situation where you didn’t deal with things very well. And it kind of walks you through trying to identify some of these different emotions and look at how these emotions maybe were appropriate or inappropriate for the situation. And if our reaction was appropriate or inappropriate for the situation.

Dealing with strong emotions in life is something that all of us have to do. But in order for us to actually deal with these different emotions that we have, we need to be sure what we’re actually feeling. So expanding our emotional vocabulary will give us the words to be able to really identify what it is that we’re feeling and then respond appropriately. So if you’d like a copy of this worksheet, if it’s something that sounds interesting to you, you can go to my website and download it from there will be a link on the front page. My website is and I’ll have the link sitting there on the front page.

And that’s the stoic coffee break for this week. Remember, be good to yourself and be good others, and thanks for listening.

Anger Awareness Circumstances Coffee Break Control stoicism

144 – Emotional Management

Emotional Management


When was the last time that you felt a really strong emotion? What was that emotion? Gratitude? Joy? Anger? Jealousy? Emotions are a powerful force in our lives. When channeled properly, they can be the fuel that helps push us through to accomplishing what we want. They can also drive us in ways that we aren’t expecting or don’t want.

I’ve had several listeners reach out to me asking me to talk about how to manage emotions and how to deal with triggering events, so today I want to talk about using stoic ideas to help with regulating emotions. At times, our emotions can seem very overwhelming for us, and push is in a direction that is not helpful and can be damaging. In my own life, I’ve had times where I’ve let my emotions override my common sense and make choices or say things that I later ended up regretting.

I’ve talked on this podcast about how I struggle with keeping my temper in check, and the last few weeks have been a bit of a struggle for me. I’ve been dealing with some insomnia, which tends to leave me with less energy to keep a lid on my anger. And while my lack of sleep is a factor in lowering my attentiveness to my emotional state, my emotions are my responsibility.

What really frightens and dismays us is not external events themselves, but the way in which we think about them. It is not things that disturb us, but our interpretation of their significance.


First, let’s look out the flow of emotional states. The first thing that happens is we sense something.  Some even occur and we see, hear, touch, smell or taste something, and that information is received by our brain. At this point, it’s just raw data. It may be the vibration of a voice or a song. It may be the image of a car. It may be the smell of something cooking on the stove. This is just an observation of the event

Next, we have a thought about what that data means. We begin to make some kind of interpretation or judgment of what we sensed. We may hear someone say something that we think is rude. We may think the smell from the kitchen is enticing. We may think that the car we see is coming at us at us too quickly.

Once we have added some meaning to the data that came into our heads, we have created some emotion around it. We may feel offended at the remark. We may be excited about eating whatever someone is cooking in the kitchen. We may be on alert that we’re going to be run over by the car.

This cycle of observing, making judgments, and creating emotions continues until we take some action. We might say something back to the person. We may head into the kitchen to see what’s cooking. Maybe we run out of the way of the car.

Once we take action, then we start the cycle over again. We observe what has happened, in response to our action, have a thought about that observation, then have some kind of emotion around it, then we take some kind of action.

Now that we have our pattern established, what happens in this causes us to lose control of our emotions? It really comes from the judgment stage. How we think about something, and what we think that it means, is what create the emotion.  If someone said something trying to offend us, we can decide if we want to let that offend us, and feel that emotion. If we make a judgment that we don’t care about what they said, or that they are misinformed, or that we possibly misheard, then we have a very different feeling about what that person said, and will respond quite differently depending on our interpretation. Because we decide what we want to think about what they said, we are in control about how we feel about it. If we are able to delay making a judgment as long as possible, and just observe events, then we can choose what kind of judgment to attach to something, or to not have an opinion it at all.

Now some things, we should have a quick judgment on. If a car is racing towards us, we should get out of the way. But even in this case, making a wise judgment is more helpful, because if you are able to manage your fear, you can make a better decision of where to run.

The biggest trigger for anger is expectations. When we think that something should happen a certain way or someone should or shouldn’t behave a certain way, we set ourselves up to be disappointed. Learning how to let go of any expectations or outcomes, especially around things that we have no control over, such as what other people think of us, is one of the key teachings of both stoicism and Buddhism. The more we can learn to let go of things we can’t control, observe them, and make judgments based only on things we observe, the easier it is to manage our emotions, and make better decisions.

Most of the triggers for my anger come from my interpretation, my judgments of what I think about what someone else says or thinks of me. This is why the stoics talk so much about not worrying about the opinions of others.

I have often wondered how it is that every man loves himself more than all the rest of men, but yet sets less value on his own opinion of himself than on the opinion of others.

— Marcus Aurelius

Other peoples opinions are none of my business. They have the right to feel whatever they want. Just like I do. The question I need to ask is, “What do I think it means if they are annoyed at me? What meaning am I attaching to it?” Their opinion of me is not something that I can control, and when I do try to control it, I get frustrated by my powerlessness to be able to control it.

One of the best ways that I’ve been able to get this more under control is by using a stoic exercise called Premeditatio Malorum, or to premeditate on evil, basically imagining what could go wrong, so that you are prepared to handle those negative emotions. This is a powerful exercise in learning how to deal with things that trigger you.

Let’s say for example that you have a family member or friend that seems to triggers your anger. Sit down and imagine a scenario where you normally would get upset and lose your cool. Imagine what the situation would be like, and feel that emotion. And then make a choice to just sit and feel that emotion. How would it feel to just sit with it? How would it feel to just observe that emotion, and notice how it feels in your body? If you can just sit with it, and let yourself feel that you can recognize that this emotion can’t really harm you in any way.

Even after working through this kind of exercise, you’re going to make a judgment about something, and you’ll feel that strong emotion. There is nothing wrong with this. If you do notice this, try to take that step back an observe the emotion. Notice it. Try to see what the thought was behind it. What was the meaning that you attached to it? Once you can start to understand your own thought process, you can start to change what thoughts you have about specific events.

Learning to manage your emotions is not something that is easy to do. It’s something that takes constant work and attentiveness. Understanding the thought processes that lead to these emotions and using exercises like Premeditatio Malorum can help you be prepared to deal with those triggers help you manage your emotions rather than letting them control you.

Anger Awareness Coffee Break stoicism

135 – No Easy Thing

No Easy Thing


“You must know that it is no easy thing for a principle to become a man’s own, unless each day he maintain it and hear it maintained, as well as work it out in life.”

– Epictetus

Show Notes:

  • How often do we hear something, think that we understand it, but yet it still takes us quite a while to make it a part of our daily life?
  • Change is not easy.
  • Studies show that it takes 3-6 weeks for a habit to become ingrained, depending on the complexity of the habit.
  • It also depends on if you are trying create a new habit or replace an existing habit.
  • And that’s just for a single habit done daily.
  • How much information do you get in your life that you want to implement?
  • How many things are there that distract you from your habit?
  • If we want something to become a habit, I’ve found that it’s best to focus on one thing.
  • Work on it until you don’t have to think about it.
  • Then move on the next thing, and repeat.
  • If you want to exercise, do it every day, even if you don’t do it well.
  • If you want to be less angry, first pay attention to your mood.
  • Just getting it done each day is more important than the quality.
  • Creating this podcast for me was first about getting it done each day.
  • Then, once the routine was created, I was able to focus on the quality.
  • Is there a principle or a habit that you want to improve in in your life?
  • What can you do today to move you little closer to creating that habit?
  • Focus on the hardest part – creating the habit.
  • Worry about the quality later.
  • Soon you’ll have a shiny new habit.
  • And then you can start on the next one.

Photo by Scott Gruber on Unsplash

Anger Awareness Coffee Break Control

121 – Anger If Not Restrained…

Anger if Not Restrained…

“Anger, if not restrained, is frequently more hurtful to us than the injury that provokes it.”

― Seneca

Show Notes

• Today’s topic is one that is a bit personal to me. It’s something that I struggle with at times.

• I’ll get upset about something, and because I let anger get the best of me, I make the situation far worse than the event that I got angry about in the first place.

• And getting angry also causes me to ruin my inner peace. We make myself unhappy by not dealing with anger in a constructive way. I give ourselves a bad day.

• And it’s because sometimes anger feels good. That righteous indignation when we feel that someone has done us wrong and that we have the right to put them in their place.

• Anger is something that each one of us have to deal with.

• We don’t need to turn off anger. Repressing what we feel is not a good idea either.

• But dealing with it in a healthy way is something that we can all learn.

• We can feel the feelings, acknowledge them, then decide what to do about them.

• We can ask whether we were actually harmed. Remember, we are only harmed if we believe we have been harmed.

• We can ask ourselves if our response will do more harm than good.

• We can ask ourselves if this will be important in the future, or will it be some forgotten trifle.

• By giving into anger is like kicking the hornet’s nests because it was in our way, when we could have just as easily gone around

• I know that we’ve discussed anger fairly often on this podcast, but being able to apply principles in your lives is a daily practice. A daily exercise.

• Just as we wouldn’t just go to the gym once and workout and declare that we are in shape and never go back again, working on applying these principles is something that we need to work on everyday. It’s a way to get in our mental exercise.

• And like an athlete, we’re going to have days where we run the perfect race and everything works in our favor. We also going to have a lot of days where we’re off and we fall flat on our faces.

• And just like an athlete we need to gauge our fitness level for the day, and put in our best effort, regardless of how meager it might be.


Photo by Gabriel Matula on Unsplash

Anger Awareness Coffee Break Control

119 – Who is Your Master?

Who is Your Master?

“Any person capable of angering you becomes your master;

he can anger you only when you permit yourself to be disturbed by him.”

― Epictetus

Show Notes:

• Stoics believed strongly that we are all in control of our own emotions

• One of the strongest emotions we have to deal with is anger

• From an evolutionary standpoint it seems to makes sense. We feel threatened and we respond in a way that we think will deal with the threat.

• But the thing is, fear is usually the response to a physical threat. Anger is usually response from a threat to our ego. Anger is usually what we use to try and control something that we can’t.

• When someone speaks poorly of us, or does or says something we don’t like, we’re trying to control them through anger.

• If someone is easily offended and flies off the handle at even the smallest thing, they are are trying to control others.

• But when we get angry we’re failing to control the one thing we truly can control – ourselves. We’re giving control of our emotions to someone else.

• Have you ever seen a kid do things just to get a rise out of someone? Maybe their siblings or their parents? It’s their way of trying to see if they can control the other person.

• This is why politicians like to get people angry about something. Why they choose a polarizing side on an issue. It’s about control.

• Get people angry about something and you have a lot more control over them.

• People don’t go to war because they’re happy and want to be kind to others.

• They go to war because they’re angry about something. And it may have started of being afraid of something, but was channeled into anger.

• Remember, the only thing that you can control is yourself, so it’s up to you to decide – are you the master of yourself, or are you going to give that power to anyone else that upsets you?

Photo by Peter Forster on Unsplash

Anger Awareness Challenges Coffee Break

112 – Anger Always Outlasts Hurt

Anger Always Outlasts Hurt


“How much better to heal than seek revenge from injury. Vengeance wastes a lot of time and exposes you to many more injuries than the first that sparked it. Anger always outlasts hurt. Best to take the opposite course. Would anyone think it normal to return a kick to a mule or a bite to a dog?”

— Seneca


I was talking with a friend the other day about how to deal with anger. He asked me specifically about how to deal with anger in life, so I felt it only appropriate to talk about anger today.

Anger is something that I’ve certainly struggled with. Growing up with a terrible example of how to deal with anger, I would either avoid it, or I would be consumed by it. Finding a way to deal with it constructively has taken years of work, and I still struggle with it.

Sometimes it feels like we live in a world that often seems to be fueled by anger. You turn on the news and it seems that story after story is about some of the worst instances of humanity. Almost any political talk show seems to trying it’s best to whip us up into fearing and hating the other side. So much so, that it seems that we can’t have an actual discussion with those that disagree with us politically. When we live in a society that thinks it’s okay to take down those that do you wrong or disagree with you, it’s hard to stop and take those steps to be kind to those that you feel have injured you.

But the idea of not returning hate with hate is not a new new one.

Jesus taught, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.”

In Buddhist teachings, anger is often compared to an “out of control forest fire” and a “rampaging elephant.” Because reactive uncontrolled anger is so destructive so quickly.

Confucius said, “Holding onto anger is like holding onto a burning ember that you want to throw at someone. You’re the one that gets burned.”

And the Stoics are no different. Seneca is warns us that vengeance wastes a lot of time. It also wastes a lot of energy. When you seek revenge, you injure yourself with your own anger. You often say or do things that make the situation far worse than it was before.

Why do we give into the angry path? Because anger is easy. Because there’s a part of anger that feels good at the time. The desire to strike back at those that you feel have wronged you is powerful.

What if all that effort was put into understanding why the other person tried to injure you? What if you took that same time and energy and tried to heal the situation? What if all that effort was put into mobilizing people for good? For getting people to talk to each other and work on solutions?

How do we deal with anger? How do we train ourselves to not give into our impulses?

The first step, which is often the hardest, is to truly grasp the concept that you are 100% responsible for your emotions. No one else is. Nothing else is to blame. Regardless of the circumstances or the events that happen, you decide to if you want to respond in anger. And just as you have conditioned yourself to respond with anger, you can condition yourself to respond with calmness and rationality.

The next step is being aware of our anger. Do you notice when you are in throws of anger, rather than only really seeing it after you cool down?

Next, try to step back from it. Can you look at it from a detached perspective? Can you look at as if you were just someone else in the room observing it? When you are more able to catch yourself in the middle of it, and can take a step back, resist the urge to lash out. Think about if what you want to say will do harm or help.

Stick to it. When you are in the heat of the moment and you do get some control, the other person may still be arguing or pushing back even though you are making honest efforts to defuse the situation. Don’t revert back to lashing out, no matter how much you want to. Think before you speak. If you have to leave the situation, then do so. Step away and delete that angry Facebook post.

Once you’ve worked to cool yourself down, understand that healing the situation is about the other person, not about make yourself feel better. It’s about meeting the needs of the person that you have harmed. It will take time, and humble attitude to work things out.

Changing a habit of reactive anger is not easy. It may be one of the hardest things you will ever have to overcome. But the damage that is caused by not learning to control your emotions can take a long time to heal. The more you can keep a reign on yourself, the less you have to repair. The more inner tranquility you cultivate, the more you can apply your energy to building things up rather than tearing them down.

Are you struggling with something in your life? Do you have questions about Stoic philosophy? I would really like to hear from you. If you go to the front page and scroll to the bottom of the page, you can send me a message. I’ll do my best to address your question on the show. I’ve found that Stoic ideas and principles are some of the most practical teachings there are, and can be applied in any situation in your life.


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