End Arguments Quickly and With Less Damage

>> Thursday

WHAT CAN YOU DO when you're arguing with your mate and you reach a stalemate? What can you do when you are so mad at each other that you can't think straight, and everything you say gets twisted around and your mate is no longer listening to anything you say and you are too mad to listen? What can you do? Go into the other room and fume? Keep fighting, getting louder and louder? Force yourself to apologize through gritted teeth?

You're bound to reach an impasse in an argument once in awhile. When you do, stop talking. Your chances of working anything out when you are both upset is very close to zero. Don't waste your time. Don't risk saying or doing anything more you'll regret. Go off by yourself and do the following:

1. Do something that will calm you down physically and get your mind off the situation. Watch a movie, read an engaging book, surf the internet, play a game. Once you've gotten yourself distanced from the argument enough to think straight, relax your body somehow. Meditate. Soak in a hot tub. Take a hot shower. Listen to relaxing music. Get as deeply relaxed as you can.

2. Do not decide anything. Draw no conclusions. The more upset you are, the more distorted your point of view will be. So any decisions you make are more likely to be bad ones than good ones. People just aren't as rational and don't think as clearly when they are upset. It's not just you, it's all of us. So don't make any decisions or come to any conclusions when you are mad.

THEN think. After you've calmed down and gotten your mind off it for awhile, think about what you were arguing about. If you get upset again, calm down again before you try to think. Go for a walk or go for a drive and give yourself some time to think.

If this seems like a lot of time to spend, maybe your arguments are not that bad. But if your arguments get out of control and sometimes last for hours, and during that time you hurt each other and say things you regret, than the time you spend to do what I'm suggesting will be well worth it. It will save you time. And pain.

When you're done thinking, consider talking to your mate about it. Sometimes there will be nothing to talk about because you'll realize the fight was really about nothing important, now that you've calmed down and thought about it. You just took something wrong (or your mate did) and it created a kind of reverberating feedback loop that escalated into an impasse.

When a microphone gets too close to its speaker, it creates a feedback signal that gets louder and louder. All you have to do is move the microphone away from the speaker. You don't need to fix anything. Nothing is wrong. All that happened was a feedback loop got started and you have to separate the two.

Sometimes that is true of you and your mate. You'll figure that out once you can calm down and think about it.

But if there is something you two need to talk about, think about how you will approach the subject. When you've got it worked out, then go find your mate and talk about it. This is the sanest way to bypass an impasse.


How to Make Good Decisions When You're Upset About Something

>> Monday

I HAD BEEN angry several times because our new neighbors (three college boys) across the way had the habit of staying up late and talking loudly with their windows open. They also watched movies and talked over the movie to each other, oblivious to the many neighbors in the area who were sleeping. And because it was summertime, everyone had their windows open.

I had asked them to please keep it down, and they would for awhile, but then they seemed to forget, and resumed their usual obliviousness. It was upsetting.

So one night I called the cops and made a noise complaint. A policeman came out and had no trouble at all locating them. They were making lots of noise. I heard him warning them they were making too much noise and next time they'd all get a 250 dollar fine. I heard one of them say (with what sounded like genuine surprise), "What noise?"

They were quieter after that, but still staying up late and talking loudly. One night, I was up late and they were making their usual sounds, disturbing the quiet night. I felt upset again. I was angry at them for giving me something I had to deal with. I just wanted quiet in my own home, and they made that impossible. I felt like that snarling wolf in the picture.

I could have let it go, but it kept disrupting me. I was trying to read and kept getting distracted. Occasionally the three of them would burst out laughing at the same time, startling me.

So I played a CD of a recording of a cascading waterfall (to temporarily block their sounds) and meditated for about twenty minutes (using this technique). And after I was feeling very relaxed, I thought about what I could do about this problem, and I came up with a solution.

The next day when I saw two of them out on their porch, I had a conversation with them, told them I heard the cop talking to them and I that I thought 250 dollars is awfully harsh, and I had a better solution: How about they give me their phone number. Then rather than calling the cops, I could just call them. One of the guys said, "Sure." He gave me his name and number. They apologized for making noise, and thanked me for my solution! I've had to call them only a few times and they quieted down right away. It was the kind of solution I only seem to come up with when I'm feeling calm and relaxed.

The moral of this story is a lesson I have learned and used many times: You can make the best decisions and come up with the best solutions when you are very calm.

When you feel yourself stressing, do nothing and say nothing until you can find a quiet room where you can meditate or deeply relax in some way. Afterwards, when you're in a state of deep calm, then make your decision or initiate an action if that's what you decide to do. You're very likely to be satisfied with the result. It makes for better moods in the long run.


Continually Finding Balance But Never Achieving It

>> Sunday

CREATE TOO much peacefulness in your life and it becomes boring. Create too much excitement and it is stressful. Read too much and your relationships suffer. Play too much and your productivity suffers. Try too hard and your spontaneity suffers. And on and on and on.

Balance is the key to being in a good mood more often. And balance is never-ending. You continually find your balance, you don't achieve balance. Even if you were able to find your perfect balance and hold it, life itself will throw you off balance continually. There is no state of motionlessness for a tightrope walker. It is constant adjustment.

Do you know what an idiot-savant is? It's someone who has extraordinary ability in one area but who suffers mental retardation in another area. So the person can do amazing mathematical calculations instantly in his head, for example, but can't get along with others to save his life. The brain is a good example of the difficulty of balance. So many abilities can be useful, and yet the space for brain matter is limited to the size of the head. So evolution has had to compromise and do its best to keep a balance between all necessary abilities. An idiot-savant gives us a glimpse of what brainpower would be capable of if brain-space were unlimited.

And the way the brain has limited different abilities in the normal brain, you see the vital importance of balance. The brain has achieved a kind of balance. You, however can never achieve balance. But you can get better at balancing. You can increase your awareness and your knowledge so you can detect sooner when balance is being lost and how to restore it.

When sailing, you set your sail and fix your rudder, but in a little while you need to adjust them because you're veering off course. Why? Because the wind has changed directions or the current has changed, or your boat is listing to one side.

How do ships' captains deal with this? Simple. They constantly check their location and direction and readjust their course. They don't try to set their course once and for all. They keep checking and keep correcting their course, so they arrive where they want to go.

Do the same thing with your life. Keep checking, and keep correcting your course. Aim for balance and keep aiming, and overall, you'll be pretty balanced. Look closely at a ship's course and it looks like a zigzag. Rise enough above it and the course looks like a straight line. Trying to keep your balance, it will seem that most of the time you're OFF balance. But look at your life from a sufficient distance, and, if you are fairly vigilant about keeping your balance, it will also look good.

tempus rerum imperetor

Life is like baking a loaf of bread. If you want to get it right, everything needs to be roughly in proper proportion. For bread you measure volume — cups, tablespoons. For life, you measure time.

The secret to the previous dilemmas of study versus relationships or play versus productivity, the dilemmas are solved not by choosing one or the other, but by allotting each their time.

Since you sleep (or should) eight hours a day, you get 16 waking hours every day. You have simply the question: Given your sixteen hours, how do you want to divide it up? Given that you want to be successful, given your desire for a close and satisfying relationship, given your desire for good health and a general feeling of contentment with your life, how are you going to divvy up that sixteen hours?

This is very much like trying to create a recipe for a loaf of bread. It is experimental. Every day is a new opportunity to experiment again. Add a little more yeast, or a little less flour, or more oil or less water. The size of the loaf pan sets the limit. The length of the day sets your time limit.

The task is only to fuss with the ingredients to get closer and closer to a satisfying experience. Sometimes you only need to change the order in which you do things — do one thing before another instead of after. Sometimes you need to add or delete an ingredient altogether, or add a new one to test a possible permanent new addition.

The process never stops, but a greater and greater mastery can develop and higher and higher quality can be achieved through experimentation. You can get closer and closer to balance.

The element to manipulate is time. Minutes and hours. And these minutes and hours need to be managed well enough that they don't manage you, but you are managing them, so there is no feeling of time pressure. Time pressure is low quality experience.

What you're ultimately after, with bread or with your life, is the experience of quality.


A Simple Way to Lower Feelings of Stress

>> Thursday

SCIENTISTS GIVE rats a lot of stress and then see what they can do to reduce stress hormones. Something that successfully lowers stress hormones is vitamin C.

Researcher P. Samuel Campbell and his colleagues found that 200 mg of vitamin C per day reduced the level of stress hormones in the rats' blood. That's a pretty big dose for a little critter. It is the equivalent of several grams of vitamin C per day for you or me, which is actually in the range of what the famous chemist, Linus Pauling recommended. It is also in the range of what chimpanzees — our closest genetic relatives — get in their daily diet in the wild.

Other things that indicated a generally lower stress level for the rats taking the vitamin C were: 1) their adrenal glands didn't enlarge as much as they normally do when rats are constantly stressed, 2) they didn't lose as much weight as the stressed but unmegadosed rats (stress tends to make people put on weight), and 3) their spleens and thymus glands didn't shrink as much.

I'm not a biochemist or a doctor. You can do your own research and draw your own conclusions. I'm noting it here because it is relevant to our topic (improving your mood by reducing stress and anxiety) and can give you an avenue to pursue you might not otherwise have thought about.

If you feel particularly stressed out, it probably wouldn't hurt to take some extra vitamin C and it might even help you feel better.



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