How To Turn Anger Into A Self-Awareness Exercise

Everyone knows them. People who say “I’m sooo busy,” before you even ask them, “How are you?”

I ran into one of those folks at the gym the other day. I was on my way out after an intense workout when I saw him from the corner of my eyes. I don’t like the guy at all and made my way towards the exit.

So when he called my name, I thought to myself, “here we go again.” Within the first second, he told me how busy he was. After talking about himself for 2 minutes, he realized I wanted to go.

So he asked me to join some bullshit network event where unsuccessful people usually go to pat each other on the back. I was hesitant and didn’t say yes. So to stall, he started talking about entrepreneurship and innovation.

He asked about my view on innovation. When I think about that word, I always think of Steve Jobs, someone who’s vision I admire. I started telling a story about how Jobs wasn’t a fan of market research because that often leads to marginal improvement.

Jobs realized that Apple customers didn’t always know what they truly needed until they actually got the product. He interrupted my story after the first two sentences and said, “I don’t agree with that.”

That pissed me off. I get irritated when know-it-alls repetitively interrupt me — and this guy does it all the time. I’ve never finished more than three sentences during a conversation with him. Plus, he made it look like Jobs’ vision was wrong.

I heatedly told him “You’re either a fucking sociopath or the biggest genius in the world to think you know it better than Jobs.” We quibbled for a bit, and then I walked away, wishing him good luck.

Some Situations Make You Angry

I was wrong. I shouldn’t have wasted my energy on him. I aspire to be level-headed at all times. Even when frustrations accumulate, I want to be in control of my emotions.

For me, that’s hard. I don’t shy away from confrontation — in fact, I welcome it. The good thing is that I know that about myself.

I realize that’s not always a good thing. It’s better to be like the Stoics, who practiced self-restraint. One of my favorite passages from Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations is when he tells himself not to get upset with other people.

“When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: the people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous and surly. They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil. But I have seen the beauty of good, and the ugliness of evil, and have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own — not of the same blood and birth, but the same mind, and possessing a share of the divine. And so none of them can hurt me. No one can implicate me in ugliness. Nor can I feel angry at my relative, or hate him. We were born to work together like feet, hands and eyes, like the two rows of teeth, upper and lower. To obstruct each other is unnatural. To feel anger at someone, to turn your back on him: these are unnatural.”

Especially that last sentence is something we can all learn from. How often do we get angry at others? I see it all the time, even with the kindest people. One of my family members has had several health issues over the last years.

At some point, she felt that the doctors didn’t take her seriously. That made her furious, which caused an outburst. Normally, she’s the kindest person in the world. But things can get too much for all of us. Everyone has something that triggers their anger.

Robert Greene wrote about that too in his latest book, The Laws Of Human Nature. He argues that we all feel negative emotions like anger, envy, jealousy, etc.

Practice Self-Control

When Marcus Aurelius says the feel anger at someone is natural, I interpret that as staying angry. Anger in itself is totally natural but remaining in that emotion is not. Mostly because it’s not productive for yourself. But we can’t anticipate anger. We don’t know when or what will trigger it.

So we must train ourselves in advance. I believe this is something every single person can benefit from. Every day, practice self-control. Don’t let your emotions get out of hand.

That goes both ways. Sometimes we get too excited about our plans. “Let’s buy a new house!” You might think. And before you know it, you spend days looking for suitable homes.

After a while, you think, “Well, we already talked about buying a house, and we decided to wait because we currently have enough space.” You see? We all do that. We get excited about things, we don’t think it through, and then we end up disappointed like an exhausted child at the end of his sugar rush.

Instead, be restrained. But don’t confuse that for being a robot. We still need to show our emotions — especially to the people who are most important to us.

I couldn’t care less about the guy in the gym. But I care a lot about my family, girlfriend, and close friends. And you don’t want to get angry at one of those people who matter to you.

Use Your Anger To Improve Your Self-Awareness

Here are a few questions that helped me to learn from my anger so you can turn it into a good thing:

  • What has made you angry in the past?
  • What caused the anger?
  • How did you feel afterward?
  • How often did something similar happen?

By simply answering those questions, you’ll learn more about what triggers anger. Often, you’ll find that it was unnecessary.

That’s the main lesson I’ve learned: Losing control over your emotions is never good. Even when you’re at war, and you must be aggressive, self-control and restraint are the most important characteristics a leader can have.

Like with anything that’s difficult in life, it requires practice to stay calm. And you might be calm 99.9% of the time. But that 0.01% you lose control can screw up your relationships or career.

So don’t take the smallest irritation lightly. Always reflect on your behavior. That’s how we learn to become better. We’re far from perfect, but the path towards calmness is clear — we just have to commit to it.