Growing up there was one characteristic of me my mom never liked. That I just like my father before me and my grandfather before him, had a very bad temper. If something didn’t go as planned, if someone attacked me or if I felt that I wasn’t getting a point across, I would erupt.
The funny thing is that this behaviour of mine was in stark contrast with how I normally was. At my steady state, I’m normally very cheerful, I smile a lot, I laugh a lot and I joke a lot. But when that temper gets the better of me, I am another person.
I’ve heard all sorts of advice growing up from “count to ten before you erupt like Donald Duck” to “try not to take things personally” but it never ever worked for me.
Then two years ago, change came from a very unexpected place. It wasn’t from some self-help book or therapy or a huge incident or anything. It was from reading a book called Sapiens by Yuvan Noah Harari, about our evolution of human beings from our cavemen days to where we are today. According to the book, human beings in our current form have been around for over 200,000 years. That means that even assuming if we lived a 100 years, our lifetime would equate to a tiny 0.05% of the time human beings have been on this Earth.
During this period of 200,000 years, many human beings have lived and died. Some Kings, some nobles, some rich men, some peasants, some great men, some not so great men. Yet no matter how important a particular person was during his time, that person’s name is rarely uttered in our daily conversations today. When was the last time for example you talked about King Henry VIII?
If even King Henry VIII, the man who is responsible for splitting the Church and them being Protestants and Catholics today so that he could marry another wife is not talked about by us on a daily or even monthly or yearly basis…. who the fuck then am I… Timothy Tiah, some boy from Penang, an island in a small country of 30 million, in the world of 6 billion people.
So if I am nobody, do my opinions or thoughts or wants matter? If they don’t, what is there to be angry about? If I am nobody, why do I feel entitled to lose my temper and hurt another person?
This is hard to accept because all our lives we are brought up to think that we are special. That we are somebody because everyone wants to feel important.
This now brings me to the next part. My first revelation was that I am nobody and then I realised that everybody wants to feel important. So what if I decided to practice this on a daily basis. That I accept I am nobody and that everybody else is important.
Here’s what I would normally lose my temper on in the past and how I deal with it now.
- When I have a disagreement with someone because of a different point of view.
If you think about how all arguments start, it’s always because both parties feel that they’re not being heard. That’s why they end up raising their voices and speaking louder and louder until it reaches a shouting match.
Now when I feel that someone is raising their voice, I try to catch myself from raising mine in return. Instead I remind myself that this person feels like he’s not being heard. So I change my posture. I stop doing anything else, lean forward, look that person in the eye and sincerely ask questions to try to understand where he’s coming from. Once he’s answered those questions, I ask more clarifying questions until I find that I fully understand how he feels. I resist the urge to respond even to any accusations he may have of me. I just focus on listening to him. Why do I do that? Well if I am nobody, and if I know he wants to feel important, shouldn’t I make it a point to listen?
I find that in most situations once I follow this process, the other person calms down very significantly. Here’s the amazing thing though, once he does that and have said their piece, I find that he’s wholeheartedly waiting to listen to what I have to say. I no longer find the need to be angry or to lose my temper and we resolve things very constructively.
2. When I don’t get what I want…
We live in a time of “ME”. We are constantly reminded on social media or marketing messages that we need ME time. That we need to do things for ourselves, go for holidays, buy things for ourselves.. whatever it takes to make ME happy. Sometimes we justify this by saying we work so hard or sometimes some of this stress come from work. That things at work don’t go the way we want it to go and it pisses us off.
Let me give you an example of how I overcame this.
In the past say if I went out for a event with Audrey’s friends and the event drags on that it encroaches on the ME time I had allocated for the day to play games or go for a run, I would get angry and sometimes lose my temper. I don’t get angry about this anymore. Whenever I feel like getting angry I would remind myself that hey… I am nobody. Why do I feel like I deserve ME time.. and on the other hand, Audrey is IMPORTANT. So even if she event drags on till night, deal with it because that’s more important than my run, or games or whatever else I have that may seem important.
3. When people talk bad about me…
In the past this would have me justify some reaction because hey, again we are thought by society that we have to defend our name if someone attacks us. In my case though, now that I have established that I am nobody and nobody apart from my own family and close friends give a shit about me, why do I feel the need to get angry about it or defend myself?
This has lifted such a huge burden off of me. Even if I were someone of importance, say a prominent corporate figure… do people really really care? Does anyone still even talk about how Mark Zuckerberg kicked Eduardo Saverin out of Facebook?
Now this mindset is really easy to adopt but there is one thing that really gets in the way of being able to do it consistently. That is the ability to control our emotions. Sometimes I have lapses too whenever I can’t control my emotions but hey… on aggregate I’ve done it.. and it has worked really well for me.
My relationships with friends, family and wife have improved.
I find it easier to manage teams at work. Heck try applying this at work. Treat all your colleagues, vendors, partners, investors like they were the most important people in your life and you’ll find they’ll go further for you. I attribute a big part of the modest success Colony has had to this.
Most important I find myself a lot happier. It’s liberating to feel that you’re nobody and you don’t have to defend anything about you. On the flip side it’s exhausting to feel that everything is about you. We all have that one friend who feels that way right? That everything is about him (or her). If someone does something that affects him, that someone must have done it because of him. That he is entitled to strong opinions and that he must defend his ego. That in any social setting he talks the most, always about himself.
It’s exhausting being that person because this normally stems from a deep insecurity. But it would be great if we could also have the empathy to understand that there are many reasons why someone like that might feel like that. Make that person feel important and maybe that might help. For me though, hanging around people like that tend to exhaust me too so I tend to just fade away from their orbit.
Anyway I digress.
All in all I think this change for me has been really significant. People who I’ve met in the past two years can’t imagine me losing my temper. More importantly my parents, my family and my wife realise that I am no longer hot tempered. I still have a long way to go because eliminating hot temper isn’t about just doing it for a month or a year… but doing it consistently for the rest of my life.