The German army won’t let a soldier tile a complaint and, make a criticism immediately after a thing has happened. He has to sleep on his grudge first and cool off. If he files his complaint immediately, he is punished. By the eternals, there ought to be a law like that in civil life too – a law for whining parents and nagging wives and scolding employers and the whole obnoxious parade of fault finders.
written by Dale Carnegie in his book How to Win Friends and Influence People
Now here is one piece of advice you may have heard before. In fact, you probably gave the same advice to dozens of friends as well, but still, when a discussion arises you find yourself in the heat of an argument before having had a chance to cool down your thoughts and be reasonable about the situation. When we disagree with someone else’s opinion, we want our point of view to recognized and often we want everyone to accept that we have the most reasonable point of view. You defend your argument with passion and start getting worked up when you find resistance. Typically at the end of the discussion one person finally gives up the argument and the other gets the bragging rights of having won the argument. An hour later everything goes back to normal and all you both got out of the argument was hurt feelings and a not-so-healthy relationship. Was it worth it?
If you, on the other hand, take the time to cool off after the initial emotional rush you are most likely to share your point of view without the need to deny the other person’s argument. It is easier in this state to learn from each other, and by this cooperative discussion you can forge new friendships instead of breaking current ones.
This is a difficult lesson to put into practice. Ideally, we want to be able to not have an emotionally charged take on an issue by the time we discuss it with someone else. When our emotions are present, the amygdala reacts without really giving you enough time and space to think clearly.
How can we avoid this innate reaction? Take time to cool off and wait until we have total control over your thoughts.
- If you need a quick way to cool off, challenge your brain to solve problems that require you to use your brain! This will force you to activate your entire brain and take power off the amygdala, which is reacting emotionally. Try it! Next time you’re focused on an emotional issue, take out that math or chem book and solve a problem, that’s doubly productive!
- Take a nap or a full night’s sleep before thinking about the issue again. Don’t stay up thinking about it. If you feel you can’t help it, occupy your thoughts by repeating a mantra or a phrase such as “I’m sleepy”. If you are in bed telling yourself over and over that you are sleepy, chances are you’ll fall asleep. If you focus on your problems, however, you will probably stay awake for many hours.
Next time you start feeling emotions while discussing a topic ask yourself, is it time to take a break and wait until the emotions dissipate? It’s an exercise of self-control to actually stop your impulses.