Out of Control
I don’t know if any of you guys are like this but I have a tendency to lose my cool. Shit hits the fan and suddenly I’m my seven year old self again. I freak out or freeze or shut down or lash out. Before I know it I’m out of control.
I can’t tell you the number of times where some external issue suddenly appeared and I had a meltdown. One of the receptionists at work makes yet another booking mistake so I tear into her. I forget to pay a major bill and end up owing hundreds in finance charges, causing me to berate myself for weeks. I come out to the parking lot and find someone has seriously scratched my beautiful car, whereupon I lose all faith in humanity.
The worst part is that every time it happens I know I don’t need to respond that way. Not only does it affect me it hurts the people around me. Thankfully this last year one of my clients gave me some advice that has made a radical shift in my how I respond to these situations. He taught me a simple, powerful tool that anyone can use to regain control in difficult circumstances.
It’s called The Rule of 10.
A Wise Client
This client of mine – let’s call him Brock. Brock is a very cool guy. He’s funny, smart, popular, successful at work and has a beautiful wife and kids. He’s also crafted a massively strong physique any man would be jealous of.
Now great power should come with great responsibility but unfortunately this is not always the case. On the surface Brock is charming and easy-going, but underneath that winning personality I was surprised to learn he used to have serious issues with anger. For the average man a rage attack is not a pretty thing but when you’re 6’3 and 260lbs of muscle it becomes a serious problem. Brock’s nickname in college football was the Hulk because of his tendency to break things – and occasionally people – when he got angry.
After multiple incidents the future was starting to look grim for Brock. Thankfully he was blessed to have an older brother Damien that loved him. One day after Brock had been verbally abusive yet again, this time to a customer, his brother pulled him into the office. After some tough love, Damien offered Brock a potential solution – a powerful tool he called The Rule of 10. He promised the rule would help Brock control his emotions.
The idea was simple. Whenever something bad happened and Brock felt himself losing control he just needed to stop everything, take a deep breath and count to ten before he responded.
Simple But Powerful
Needless to say, Brock wasn’t impressed by his brother’s “solution.” Honestly how could counting to ten change anything? Damien told him to do it anyway. Besides, what did he have to lose? Brock grudgingly promised his brother he would give it a shot.
It didn’t work well at first. Brock still got mad. He still lost control. He kept saying and doing things he later regretted. But over the next few weeks something began to happen. Customer complaints about Brock started to go down. His girlfriend started noticing a change in how he treated her. Soon his family were all commenting on how the Hulk seemed to have disappeared.
As Brock explained to me how the rule transformed his life, I told him it sounded like a great concept to help people who had anger issues. Brock agreed with me but he perceptively noticed how I was excluding myself from needing any help. “It’s not just for rage monsters,” he said. “You should try it man. I think you’ll be surprised at how useful The Rule of 10 really is.”
I told him I’d think about it. I finished up the massage, Brock thanked me for beating the shit out of him (my usual response from deep tissue clients), I told him it was my pleasure and we both went our separate ways.
The Road Warrior
I didn’t think any more about our conversation until a few days later when I was driving to work and some asshole who was texting and driving almost crashed into me. I pulled up next to the bastard and was about to give him a piece of my mind when Brock’s challenge suddenly came into my head. I decided to give it a shot.
I took a deep breath in (son of a bitch), let it out (fucktard) and started counting.
1…2…3… (why don’t you watch the fucking road)
4…5…6… (instead of texting like a moron)
7…8…9… (because you might hurt yourself or others)
It was weird. By the time I finished counting I wasn’t nearly as angry. I looked over to see the guy who had nearly side-swiped me and was surprised to see him waving at me in apology. I took another deep breath, raised my hand acknowledging his apology (jackass) and then accelerated past him before I could say or do anything else.
I didn’t want to admit it but The Rule of 10 had actually worked.
Old Habits and New
I’d love to tell you that the incident with my almost-road-rage changed my life but old habits die hard. I had decades of programming to overcome before I would start to notice any significant changes. But I kept at it. As stressful or challenging situations came up I would do my best to remain non-responsive for at least ten seconds. And, like Brock, over the next several months I too noticed a change happening in me.
When one of my receptionists made yet another scheduling error, I’d find myself automatically counting and breathing rather than criticizing her. When I forgot yet another important thing, I spent less time being abusive to myself and more time working on how I could get organized. Every day it seemed like I was breathing more and snapping less.
The true power of The Rule of 10 hit me about a month ago. I had just cleaned my coffee carafe and was putting it back into its housing when I somehow lost control of the handle. The glass carafe slipped out of my hand, fell four feet straight down onto my tile floor and shattered into about a thousand pieces.
Now here’s the weird part. Normally I would have been furious. I would have criticized myself, the coffee pot, the hard tile and life in general. But this time, even though shards of glass covered the floor in a fifteen foot radius, I didn’t respond at all. I didn’t yell. I didn’t criticise myself. I didn’t get pissed. I just stood there, breathing and analyzing the situation.
First I needed to get the cats out of the apartment so they didn’t cut their paws. Then I would need the broom, the dustpan and the vacuum to get the big pieces of glass. After that I’d need wet paper towels to mop up the glass shards. I also realized, out of nowhere, that if I had some kind of flashlight the light would reflect off any remnants of glass. The final step would be to use the light on my cellphone to search for any extra pieces.
In a strange, meditative trance I followed every step on my list and in about an hour the work was done. By the time I was finished I realized a turning point had just happened in my life. Somewhere in the last year I had changed. Brock and Damien were both right.
I had to admit The Rule of 10 was more powerful than I had ever imagined.
Do you find yourself responding without thinking? Do you lash out, criticizing yourself or others? Do you struggle with self-control? Do you shut down or withdraw when you should respond? Do you, in any way, have trouble getting overwhelmed by your emotions in the moment?
In other words, are you anything like me?
If so, I believe The Rule of 10 can help you.
In the spirit of Damien and Brock, I want to challenge you to start using this rule this week. Think about it, ruminate on it and see what happens.
Ten seconds and a deep breath might just change your life.
Stay Superior my friends!