I have been growing less patient lately.
“Less patient” is a euphemism I like to use in the place of “unnecessarily, irrationally full of rage.” Just like I used to say I was “freelance consulting” when I was actually “unemployed.” I think it sounds a little better.
My days seem to be filled with an unrelenting deluge of challenging situations. Things and people that would once evoke my empathy are instead triggering a strong desire to roundhouse kick someone in the head. This is problematic on several fronts, including my physical inability to lift my good kicking leg above my waist. Now I’m left with only my bad kicking leg to deliver the damage, and what kind of satisfaction would that bring? Significantly less, which frustrates me all the more.
Everything pisses me off lately. You name it: other drivers, customers, writers who use clichés like “you name it,” trolls (both Internet and Scandinavian folkloric), whiny bloggers who list things that annoy them, the entire Trump family (except Barron…give him time), intolerant people, and people who don’t understand irony.
The list grows daily like a hipster’s beard: ever longer and more absurd.
Fortunately, I’ve spent a lifetime of moments in self-reflection. These moments were wedged into the seconds between my daily litany of activities designed to prevent self-reflection, like guzzling alcohol and playing games on my phone. But given my penchant for wrecking my life en route to doing better, my sporadic enlightenment spawns reams of brilliant ideas.
To be clear, I don’t act on those ideas with any consistency. But when I do act on my own best advice, my life gets better.
If you are like me, suffering from perpetual anger, here are some of my best tidbits of advice to help you quell your volcano of irrational rage.
1. Get enough sleep, and make sure it’s good sleep.
I’ve always envied people who can operate on four hours of sleep, get up before the sun rises, do yoga, and drink their coffee with grass-fed butter mixed in. I can’t do any of those things.
Well, I guess I can drink coffee with grass-fed butter in it, but that’s disgusting. So, I choose not to. The rest of the things I just listed are personal non-starters.
I need a solid eight hours of sleep more often than not. I know myself. Sure, I can caffeine through a day or two without enough shut-eye. But eventually, the caffeine won’t work, and I’ll start using nouns as verbs. Also, in a move that’s good fun for everyone, I’ll snap like Bilbo Baggins catching a side-eyed glimpse of the Ring.
Knowing this key fact about myself, I try to give the Shire the gift of a well-rested me.
Unfortunately, I often mistake horizontal down time for good, restful, and regenerative sleep.
I have an amazing gift: I almost always fall asleep within 60 seconds of becoming horizontal. The only catch is that once I’m asleep, I’m blissfully unaware that I’m snoring and flipping around like a freshly caught trout. My girlfriend, however, is acutely aware of these realities. I keep telling her I’d probably sleep a lot better if she would stop kicking me in the shins while I’m peacefully thrashing and gasping for air. She is so very inconsiderate.
I find that my patience for the world increases dramatically with my improved and consistent sleep. I know the part I play in determining my own healthy sleep: consistent bedtime, consistent wake-up time, exercise, less booze, clean sheets, less electronics before bed, and shin guards.
Of course, in a theme that weaves its way through every facet of my life, knowing what prompts restful sleep is very different from doing what prompts restful sleep.
Like most adults, I’m adept at masking my desire to go take a midday nap in my car. I’m so skilled at hiding my feelings, sometimes even I don’t consciously recognize how I feel. To that end, I’ve learned that “how I’m acting” is a better measure of my mental health than “how I think I’m feeling.”
So, when my resultant behaviors (e.g., being a temperamental jerk) indicate my failure to adhere my own known requirements, I know it’s time to recommit to positive habits. And it’s time to do that whether I think I need to or not.
If you’re feeling less than agreeable these days, start with evaluating and managing your own sleep habits. It’s free, and you’ll almost certainly feel less ready to punt a kitten if you’re more fully rested.
2. Take time off from work.
I am a small business owner, which in theory means I can take time off whenever I want. In reality, it means I work all the time, even when I’m not at work. It doesn’t bother me, which is to say I’ve normalized an unhealthy behavior and the effects it has upon my life.
Side note: when I hear “small business owner,” I always envision an Oompa Loompa in a three-piece suit, angrily negotiating deals on a flip phone. Now that image is in your head, and for that, you’re welcome.
As many of you can relate, I am uncomfortable when I stray too far from my work. My business is a major part of my identity. And as much as I trust my employees, they tend to lack my full measure of problem-solving ability and confidence. Those realities add up to make working seem more peaceful than being away from work.
The key word in that last sentence is “seem.”
It’s kind of like ignoring that rattling noise coming from under your hood. You’re busy, you don’t have time for this. Besides, it’s “easier” to keep driving. It’s probably not going to blow up in your face anytime soon. It’ll just slowly destroy your car and eventually leave you stranded.
Or, you can pay attention to the warning signs, pull the car over, and fix it.
In reality, there’s no substitute for actual, disengaged, restorative time off. I know this, yet I still struggle with it. But when I finally get around to turning off my push notifications, putting the “away” message on my email, and giving my team their list of things not to call me about, time off works wonders for my mental health.
It’s good for your career, too. Time off refreshes you, teaches your team what they can accomplish without your guidance, and sets a positive example for your employees.
If you haven’t taken a legitimate vacation—not a staycation, a “working vacation,” or a trip to fabulous Schenectady for your second cousin’s funeral—you owe it to yourself and everyone around you to schedule one soon.
If you are wise, you’ll listen to me.
3. Turn off the news.
I’m terrible at this one, but I also know it works.
There are a ton of bad things happening in our world right now. And there are ample reasons to stay informed. However…
That stuff will still be happening a few days from now, and you aren’t going to solve any of it by watching 24-hour cable news.
I’m a news junkie, so I’ve started my detox small. I sub in Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune for the 7:00 pm news block. I’ve turned off the notifications on my phone from The Washington Post, NPR, and Twitter. I make a commitment that once I hear news stories repeating on my car radio, I change to music.
Just like missing sleep and overworking yourself, I have no doubt that you’ve normalized swimming in our bad news cesspool. But the volume and intensity of today’s bad news tsunami is more than any positive, well-adjusted person can abide and remain positive and well-adjusted.
Let this be your wakeup call: if Rachel Maddow, Jake Tapper, and whoever replaced Shep Smith need time off from the news, you do, too. Take a break. The world will still be terrible when you come back, I promise.
Joy Reid or Ali Velshi will fill in for you while you’re away, don’t worry.
4. Do at least one thing you want to do every day.
I received this advice years ago from a counselor, and it proved to be really helpful.
Every one of us has countless obligations to others. We have jobs, clients, customers, bosses, employees, children, partners, parents, and pets. And each of those entities places demands upon us.
Unchecked, the successful completion of each demand will spawn new demands. Fast forward a few years, and your days can become never-ending litanies of performing tasks that others require of you.
There’s nothing wrong with being there for everyone in your life. That’s noble. But if you want to continue being there—positively, healthfully, and happily—you have to take time to cater to yourself.
What is one small thing that you want to do, not for the benefit of anyone else, but for your own enjoyment?
Maybe for you, an hour at the gym is your self-indulgent break. Perhaps it’s an hour of uninterrupted video game time. Take a nap. Go for a long walk. Start a fight club in an abandoned parking garage. Read a book.
To do it right, you have to treat your “one thing” just like an obligation to someone else. Put it in your calendar (unless it’s your fight club meetings, in which case, use code words). If you have to move it, reschedule it. Don’t just skip it.
Write this down where you’ll see it daily: self-care is not selfish.
The better you are at noticing and managing the edges of your own mental state, the happier you’ll be. And as you become and stay happier, you’ll be an even better partner, friend, boss, or parent than you already are.
As I evaluate my own behaviors and habits, I see the extent to which I contribute to my own impatience and angst.
It is tempting to blame my feelings on the outside world, which is objectively full of idiots. However, I know that unless and until I manage my own mental state, I’ll remain a victim of circumstance. I might have a good day, I might have a bad day, but that will remain out of my control and dependent on the whims of others.
When I’m tired, overworked, burnt out, saturated with bad news, and resentful, the world seems like a constant onslaught of dummies who are out to get me.
But when I’m well-rested, balanced, and grateful…there are still dummies who are out to get me. I’m not naïve.
The difference is I recognize those people as a tiny fraction of the overall population.
Well-rested, I am better able to deal with the needy employee. With healthy work-life balance, the angry customer is just a tiny hiccup in an otherwise rewarding career. When I focus on gratitude, the guy who cuts me off in traffic garners my empathy, not my ire.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to spend the next few months unexplainably ignoring my own sage advice. But I’m sure I’ll stumble upon this article and read my own words at some point, don’t worry.
Need some more Hitting The Trifecta right now? Try this one: California Is Hella Stoked It’s Not Mississippi. Or how about this one? When In Doubt, Don’t Bark. I like this one, too: A Letter To My Younger Self.