The Productive Power of Remaining Calm

Why getting worked up doesn’t help you get work done

by Colter Reed
2:07 read (647 words)
Getting worked up won't help you get work done.
by Colter Reed
2:07 read (647 words)
Getting worked up won't help you get work done.

At the start of the day, we have a plan in mind for how the day will go. Whether we’ve written it down or not, this vision guides our actions as we go through the day.

Sooner or later, something deviates from the plan. A task takes longer than expected, putting us behind schedule. The children squabble with each other instead of cleaning their room. The water bill is higher than usual (is there a leak or does everyone need to take shorter showers?). We get yelled at by someone who’s day has gone downhill faster than ours.

Drop by drop, it adds up. If we’re not careful, pretty soon we’re going to start yelling, too. Yelling is contagious.

Keeping your cool isn’t easy sometimes. Getting worked up can feel good. Worse, we can mistake anger for strength—that will send us down the wrong path every time.

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you
Rudyard Kipling, “If—”

It may be hard to remain calm, but it’s a skill you need if you want to be highly productive.

Here are three reasons why you’re better off keeping a level head.

You’ll influence others.

Much of what we do involves interacting with others. Our results are a team effort.

When we get angry, we quickly lose our ability to influence or persuade others. Kids learn pretty quickly to sense when mom or dad is in a foul mood and keep their heads down. How many times have you let someone vent, even when you’re the target of their raging ire, but waited until they calmed down to have the meaningful discussion?

If you try to have a conversation or ask someone to do something while you’re angry, they’re going to do the same to you. They’ll nod, agree, and generally do what it takes to calm you down. Or they’ll get as mad as you; at that point, all communication—and collaboration—stops abruptly.

A healthy emotional bank account balance will let you safely make withdrawls—it happens. You need to make deposits to restore the balance, but you can recover from it.

If the balance is low, you’re just going to dig yourself deeper and you’re holding a very large shovel.

If someone else’s choices are what has you worked up, there is something you need them to do (or stop doing). Don’t have that conversation until you’re calm again. You’ll be glad you did.

You’ll make better decisions.

Drawing on the writings of Viktor Frankl, Dr. Stephen R. Covey taught that between stimulus and response, there is a gap that represents our ability to choose.

The wider that gap is, the easier it is to choose your response to a given stimulus. Getting a good night’s sleep widens the gap. So does limiting the number of choices you have to make, ironically.

When you get provoked and emotionally worked up, you narrow that gap. Cortisol—the “fight or flight” hormone—starts wiring the stimulus directly to the response, bypassing the gap.

You are essentially ceding control of your response to someone else. They act, you react. They’re not just pushing your buttons, they’re pulling your strings.

When you remain calm, you keep the gap wide. You have time to think of options. You keep focused on the relationship instead of one particular issue—an issue that’s probably pretty minor in the grand scheme of things.

Importantly, you’ll be able to focus on the solution instead of the problem.

You’ll be happier.

Similarly to your ability to choose, you can cede control of your happiness if you aren’t careful.

Being happy is a choice. Other people can influence the stimulus you receive, but they can’t affect the response you choose unless you let them.

If you condition yourself to get angry every time someone cuts you off in traffic, or when the kids squabble, or your burger is a little too pink, it’s like you’re passing out remote controls with a little “Ruin My Day” button on them.

Cortisol takes hours to leave your system. Is it really worth getting worked up and handing over your happiness to the person who almost hit you in traffic?

Abandoning calm and getting angry not only hinders your ability to do work now, it also tends to create negative work: work that takes you farther from the results you’re trying to achieve.

Anger isn’t strength. Anger won’t help you win an argument. Anger certainly isn’t going to make you (or anyone else) happy.

When everyone else is losing their cool, keep calm and carry on. You’ll be a step ahead of the game.

Question: Why do you try to keep calm? Share your thoughts in the comments, on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook.