As a young adult, I had a nasty habit that I detested with all my being. I had a quick temper. I could easily lose my cool at the slightest insult and would snap at the people I loved. It didn’t matter if my behavior was justified or not, hurtful words just flew out of my mouth. Perhaps worse, over time I became cold and distant to many people without explaining why. This baffled many family and friends, and I lost genuine relationships over my behavior.
When I finally owned up to my anger problem during my senior year of college, I found it hard to change. I saw counselors that gave me relaxation techniques, but I did not use them consistently. I read books and articles about ways to cool my temper, but only followed that advice sporadically. I would be okay for a week or two, and then something would set me off, and I’d feel guilty for not being able to control my feelings. I felt trapped by my own personality, and I began to hate who I had become.
We all have things about ourselves that we wish we could change. It’s easy to read stories about people who make radical changes in their lives – losing 100 pounds, overcoming alcoholism, starting a new business. These media snippets make it sound so easy: a person just woke up one day and decided to take charge and boom! They led newer, happier lives.
If you read between the lines of all these stories, though, you’ll find that the “easy change” actually wasn’t so easy, nor did it happen in an instant. It took someone 2 years to shed 100 pounds. The person overcoming alcoholism tried 5 different programs before finding one that worked. The guy starting the new business lost money on 6 different products before getting it right. These changes took real time and effort.
Yet, why do we continue to think we can change overnight?
What I didn’t realize back in college was despite appearances, I actually was improving. Sure, I would feel my ugly anger rear its head now and again, but I would use those techniques that the counselors taught me and succeed in squashing my anger 80% of the time. Even after a bad blowout, I would sit down and analyze what went wrong. I visually pictured myself being provoked and not losing my cool. I also started avoiding situations that would make me angry, and thus, found myself happier overall.
Today, I’m proud to say I’m a much less angry person. Taming my temper didn’t happen overnight. It took several years of trial and error with many setbacks to learn how to calm myself. There wasn’t just one “a-ha” moment when I realized that I had “conquered” my temper. In fact, I still lose it now and again, but now it happens so infrequently that it’s become the exception and not the rule. I can now even walk away in the middle of a flare-up, something I never dreamed possible before.
So if you can learn anything from me, realize that real change doesn’t happen overnight. It will take time for you to make progress, especially if you have a big problem or are working toward a big goal. If you understand this, hopefully you’ll feel less guilty than I did trying to make great personal change.
And if you think you’ll never get to where you want to be, give yourself a break. Don’t give up. Just count all the small victories you’ve made instead of always blaming yourself for the small losses. You might be amazed at what you can accomplish if you give yourself some time.
Photo by Jane Rahman