On Self-Knowledge

How to Stay Calm

It can be hard to stay calm. You have experienced the emotional turmoil of angst, anger, and sadness. So have I. These are wholly human things. Even the most level headed fellow has banged his fist on the table at a minor inconvenience at one point or another. I’d like to explore the source of these feelings a bit and talk about ways to reduce their domain in our lives.

Focusing on what is in your control

One of the reasons it can be hard to stay calm is our lack of control. We really don’t control very much about our lives. Once you boil it down, you can control your opinions, your choices to act or not, and your hopes for the future. All of these things are found internally. Unless someone has control over something that you desire, they can’t force you to act. For example, let’s say a rather large man with a gun informs you that you’re being robbed. He can ask nicely, or not so nicely for you to hang over your wallet, but unless you choose to honor his requests, he has no way of getting you to hand him your wallet. He can knock you down and remove it from your coat pocket. He may be able to convince your friend to toss it over. But that’s not the point. You are the only one who decides which actions you will or will not take. The only way that he can persuade you to move is by giving you sufficient reason to comply. In this case, it would be physical harm. But if you value your wallet more than your life, then the large man can’t force you to choose to move. The same principle holds with your opinions, judgments of right and wrong, and goals for the future. People may persuade you, but in the end, it comes to you to decide whether or not their case is sufficient. You control the internal. On the other hand, you do not control the external. A few examples include your career, physical health, and relationships. You can have some sway over these things, but the outcome will depend on the choices of others. So, when a situation confronts you that seems overwhelming, focus on the things that are within your control: the internals.

Acting consistently with your values

After identifying what is in your control, make a fortress for yourself. This fortress is the reputation you have with yourself. This is important for two reasons. First, the way you see yourself changes the way you feel others think of you. That is, if you hate yourself, you are more likely to assume that others hate you too. Why wouldn’t they? Second, it is the things we are ashamed of that cause turmoil. We fear they will be discovered, and all of our inadequacies will be on full display. It is quite difficult to keep calm when you’re worried about getting found out. So, strive to build this fortress. When you act in line with what you have decided is important, you embattle your fortress. When you do something that you see as wrong, you weaken the defenses. It will protect your serenity from the malicious, and not so malicious actions of those around you.

Remaining calm

But in practice, how do you stay calm? After all, it is so easy to get swept up in the emotion of the moment. Here is the key: to prepare. Just as a boxer trains by sparring, drilling footwork, and punching a heavy bag, so too should you train your mind. Visualize a difficult situation that caused you angst, anger, or sorrow. Reflect on the things that were in your control. If the source of your negative emotion was from your actions, then consider first if they should cause negative emotion, and then how you can act differently in the future. Do this over and over. You will see patterns develop in your actions. You can also use these principles in the heat of a disagreement. When you feel yourself losing your cool, take a deep breath. Remind yourself that you control your internal. You have fortified the reputation that you have with yourself by acting according to your values. The person yelling in your face does not influence that. You can keep your calm.

Thank you for sharing a few moments of your time with me. I hope you found this helpful. If you have any thoughts, either in favor or in conflict with the ideas I’ve shared above, I do hope you’ll share them. I’d love to hear what you think. If you enjoyed this article, check out the rest of my posts on here or on Medium. I post bi-weekly on similar topics.

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