The stimulus is anything that sets us off – say our partner criticizing us or someone cutting us off in traffic. Using a method we call the Slow-Motion Replay gives us a lot more insight. Mentally replaying past incidents works because we are away from the conflict, calm, and able to use the thinking parts of our brain. Much like watching a game replay in slow motion, it’s easier to see how events unfolded. Replay in your mind those times when you got angry, starting at the beginning of the conflict. What physical sensations and emotions were you feeling? What actions do you remember taking? By slowing things down, you should be able to see your reaction in much more detail, including the intermediate steps that lead up to full rage.
An example rage reaction may look like this (keep in mind your experience may be slightly different):
Stimulus=>Tightness in Gut =>Sarcasm=>Raised Voice=>Heart Pounding=>Yelling=>Rage Reaction
The intermediate steps between the stimulus and the rage reaction are our warning signs. The key is to look for patterns in your actions or your body’s physical reactions when your anger is building.
Knowing the warnings signs is nice, but so what? Have you ever noticed a time when you started on this path, but then did not go all the way to becoming enraged? If something interrupts the progress, like a phone call or a knock on the door, the conflict usually stops escalating. The key to de-escalation isn’t the phone call or knock on the door – it is time. A little bit of time passing allows our emotions to quiet down and we are able to respond to the situation in a better, more clear-minded way.
If you see a warning sign, insert time to allow the adrenaline to burn off. This will help you avoid full-scale rage. With time inserted, the rage diagram could look like this:
Stimulus=>Tightness in Gut =>Sarcasm=>Raised Voice=>Heart Pounding=>TIME=>=>=>Rational Solution
This is a good start. As you continue to recognize warning signs earlier in the cycle, and before too much adrenaline is dumped into the bloodstream, it gets even easier to slow the process down and keep your rational brain functioning. By catching reactions sooner, the rage diagram could look like this:
Stimulus=>Tightness in Gut =>Sarcasm=>TIME=>=>=>=>=>=>Rational Solution
or even this:
Stimulus=>Tightness in Gut =>TIME=>=>=>=>=>=>=>=>=>=>Rational Solution
Adding time to the emotional reaction pathway is a really good way to avoid rage. Reflecting on past emotional reactions using the Slow Motion Replay method helps identify warning signals and points in the pathway where time interruptions would be beneficial. When you see one or more of your warning signs, take a time-out.