Do you stay pretty calm in difficult situations? I bet you know people who do and people who don’t. So, let me ask you this: who do you like to be around most in the middle of tough situations? That’s an easy answer! Knowing that, I want to encourage you to be the even-tempered, restrained, reliable one in the middle of those tough situations. This isn’t just a challenge to anybody who is reading these words; it’s a challenge to myself too. This isn’t always easy for me.
People who have known me for years might be laughing out loud at how understated that might seem. For most of my life, I was quick to react. If I didn’t like what somebody said or did, I jumped in immediately with the goal of “fixing” things. People who have played games or sports with me know that I really, really like to win and get really into it when I’m competing. (I used to play in a church basketball league at the church where I worked. And I would sometimes get technical fouls for arguing with the referees. Again, this was a church league. At the church where I worked!)
About a decade ago, I started making a conscious effort to be more even-tempered and calmer. I had known for a while that being so reactive wasn’t doing much good for me or the people around me, but changing isn’t easy. As we all know from personal experience, even our bad habits are habits—things that we are used to doing and that come pretty naturally to us.
Thinking back, I’m sure there were times when my wife or kids didn’t come to me to discuss a challenge they were facing because they had a pretty good idea of how I’d react. And if they didn’t need somebody who was angry to jump in and take charge of the situation, then I probably wasn’t the best person to bring their problem to. Even after working on it for a decade, I’m still not the most even-tempered guy and I overreact to things sometimes. However, it happens far, far less often than it did for most of my life.
If you recognize the “before” version of me in your own life, I want to share a couple of things I worked on that helped me to grow. First, when I felt myself getting angry, defensive, or thrown off in some way, I would intentionally stop and do nothing for a few moments. I would count to ten or take a few deep breaths and wait for the intensity of my reaction to calm a bit. During these “cool off” times, I sometimes felt like I was going to explode—like there was just too much energy shooting around in my body. But it would pass eventually.
The second big change that I made was that I worked to identify the things that I was actually able to change. I noticed that I was getting really upset about a lot of things that were based on other people’s behavior or circumstances that were completely out of my control. When I worked to categorize the things that I could actually do something about, I started to see that getting upset about things that were out of my control didn’t do me (or anyone else) any good. When you practice being calm and even-tempered, you’ll be winning more often at home.