Anger Management Strategies for keeping anger at bay (part 1 of 4)

‘The man who gets angry at the right things and with the right people, and in the right way, and at the right time, and for the right length of time, is commended’ – Aristotle –

‘Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.’ – Buddha –

‘To be angry is to revenge the faults of others on ourselves.’ – Alexander Pope –

Anger is a driving force and creative energy, which, if judiciously applied, becomes a motivation for change. Anger will be destructive only when it is used as a tool for controlling others through fear (narcissistic rage) or when it results in a total loss of control over your emotions.

Anger is never an issue. How you handle it is the issue.

Where’s the boundary here? Emotions deemed ‘negatives’ are classified according to their disruptiveness to your wellbeing and that of others (emotional and psychological), depending on their frequency and magnitude. Some people have frequent and loud outbursts that do not result in harm to self or others.  Why is this so?

Anger can be dramatic in its intensity, a true volcanic eruption. What matters is what is said and done to others during the burst, how long it takes you to come back to calm, and your ability to ponder about the causes of your anger. So, managing anger is a delicate balancing act, in which you need to assess whether you were righteous or aggressive and if your response was proportional to the slight or exaggerated. If you are the kind of person who represses anger or expresses it too forcefully in the eyes of others, the following might help.

Anger defined
An instinctual emotional response that ranges from mild frustration to explosive rage. A response to a perceived or real threat that releases a cocktail of stress chemicals in your blood stream and provokes various bodily responses. When you get angry, your heart rate and blood pressure go up, as do the levels of your energy hormones, adrenaline, and noradrenaline.

It is also a normal and healthy human emotion that is biologically wired to keep us safe from danger. The most instinctive, natural way to express anger is via an aggressive response.

Anger can be painful and disturbing, so angry people seek an immediate solution to the source of anger. They must force the obstacle or problem away, immediately, to get relief. This is how anger can become explosive.

There are three means to handle anger: express it, repress it, or calm it.

If negatively expressed, impulsively, irrationally or in out of control fashion, it can damage relationships, reputation, and health and even lead to issues with the law. This emotion can result in snap decision-making and self-defeating behaviors.

If positively expressed, it leads to appropriate action, relief, discussion and resolution.

If repressed, its energy must be expressed in an activity, because if turned inward, it can lead to anxiety, depression, somatic illnesses, irritability and a range of physical complaints, even to heart attack.
If calmed down inside, you are controlling your outward behavior and internal responses, such as lowering your heart rate, you are letting the feelings subside.

Reasons for being angry and the magnitude of the anger vary according to people. Everyone expresses it differently, which makes reading and managing angry people difficult because it is a bespoke task. Individuals who are easily angered have a low tolerance for frustration. They can’t tolerate much inconvenience or annoyance. They are particularly infuriated if the situation seems unjust. Causes may be genetic, physiological or sociocultural.  Some people are born with low tolerance levels. Others acquire it. Other get very stressed, and their tolerance lowers over time.

Reasons for being angry

Anger is caused by internal events, such as brooding about personal problems, or external events, such as being caught in a traffic jam or handling a difficult work colleague.

– Unfairness or injustice was done to self or others, rightful or perceived.
– Frustration at a situation, event or person (impatience)
– Being hurt by the actions of another
– Being harassed
– Sensing a threat to ideas and beliefs we value.
– Feeling dismissed (your needs are not listened to)
– Internal mood states (like the memory of past trauma springing up to mind)
– Fear
– Accumulated stress
– Use of street drugs
– Certain medical conditions
– Seeking revenge
– Getting attention
– Being unable to express other feelings.

Why we bottle up…. Until we can’t any longer

We’re raised with the belief that anger is ‘bad’ and we are actively discouraged from expressing it. As a result, we don’t learn how to handle it or channel it constructively, we suppress it and internalize it. Several assumptions underlie this behavior.

Part 2. > What we’re told about anger – the myths.

Anger Management Strategies for keeping anger at bay (part 4 of 4)

Strategies for keeping anger at bay (part 4 of 4)

Calm the anger: Humor is great!

Humor defuses anger because it helps you get a more balanced perspective. When you get angry at someone and call that someone a name, stop and visualize the word becoming alive. If your coworker is a “dirtbag,” picture a large bag full of dirt talking on the phone or going to meetings. As silly as it may seem, it takes the edge off your emotions.

If your anger arises from thinking that things ought to go your way and that you are morally right, then see yourself as a god with everyone around bowing to you. Is this reasonable? As you build up similar scenarios and scenes in your mind, you will realize that some things are not important to be angry about. Don’t take yourself too seriously.

A word of caution: don’t try to just “laugh off” your problems; rather, use humor to help yourself face them more constructively. Don’t give in to harsh, sarcastic humor; that’s just another form of unhealthy anger expression.

Calm the anger: Change Your Environment
Sometimes our immediate surroundings cause frustration and anger. Problems and responsibilities weigh on you, and you feel trapped.

Give yourself a break. Make room for some personal time during the day, especially those times that are particularly stressful. One example is when you come home from work. For the first 15 minutes have a brief quiet time, and now move on to being open to your family.
Calm the anger: Practice empathy.
As the argument builds up, try to see the situation from the perspective of the other person. Just as you feel it, their need isn’t being met. Ask yourself “what is going on with him/her and me”?

Calm the anger: Check your lifestyle.
Lack of sleep, lack of exercise, stress buildup and lack of self-care increase the frequency and magnitude of anger. Lack of hydration leads to irritability too, so drink plenty of water during the day.

Calm the anger: Use your social network.
Ask for feedback from friends and family. Do they notice your triggers? Tell them you are changing your behavior and you need their support and feedback. Take time to simply ‘be’ with people. No agenda, no bringing work into your relationships. Chat, do an activity with them.
Calm the anger: Trust!
Others do not necessarily do things on purpose to annoy or frustrate you. They often focus less on you than you might think! Build strong relationships with family, friends and colleagues. This way you will be less prone to interpreting their actions negatively. Be consistent with people, put your actions where your mouth is. As they trust you, they too will be come more reliable.

Calm the anger: Listen!
Frustrations often arise from miscommunications. Focus on what people say before you prepare your response, don’t get distracted until they’re finished. Ask if you don’t get a clear message such as by reflecting back on what you heard.
When people are angry, they tend to jump to conclusions, which might be inaccurate. Don’t say the first thing that comes to mind. Instead, slow down and think your response through. Hence the value of really listening carefully to what the other says.
Listen to yourself, through your bodily responses. When you start tensing up, something is triggering your anger. Identify what is going on. Sometimes people criticize you, and you become first defensive, then angry. The underlying words of critic by the other often means they feel neglected. Keep your cool and identify why they come to critics. Getting angry will lead a discussion spinning out of control.

Calm the anger: Is it worth it?
Life is short. You or your partner or any acquaintance with whom you are arguing could get ill or die tomorrow. If you spend all of your time getting angry, you’re going to miss many joys. Anger is known to be destructive of relationships. Is it worth it?

Calm the anger: Apologize
if needed, and let go if you didn’t start the argument.
If you blew out of proportion, make amends. If you hold onto your anger, you won’t relax. Sometimes walking away is best to your health rather than staying in and winning. So ask yourself again: Is it worth it?

And a tool for masters: Suppress the Anger

Anger can be suppressed, and then converted or redirected. Hold in your anger, stop thinking about it and focus on something positive. The aim is to inhibit or suppress your anger and convert it into more constructive behavior. For example, if you are outraged by poor traffic conditions, lobby your local transport and planning authorities. If you argue with a co-worker far too often, go boxing at the gym or create that drawing masterpiece!

There’s a danger in this. If you do not allow an outward expression, you will turn the anger inward, and get ill. Anger turned inward may cause hypertension, high blood pressure, or depression.

Other tips

Timing: If you and your spouse tend to fight after you are back from work, when you’re tired, or distracted, —try changing the times when you talk about important matters, so these talks don’t turn into arguments.

Avoidance: If a chaotic room or a place make you furious every time you walk by it, shut the door or don’t go there. Don’t make yourself look at what infuriates you. Don’t say, “well; it should be this or that way!” That’s not the point. The point is to keep yourself calm.

Finding alternatives: If doing something anger you, such as commuting during rush hours in the MTR, give yourself a project—learn or map out a different route perhaps by bus, or walk part of the way or ride the MTR before or after rush hours.

Experience is not what happens to a man. It is what man does with what happens to him” –  Aldous Huxley.

Anger Management Strategies for keeping anger at bay (part 3 of 4)

Strategies for keeping anger at bay (part 3)
If you feel that your anger is getting out of hand, and is damaging your relationships, and you are acting in ways that seem out of control and frightening, explore how you can implement any and preferably all of the following. They fall into categories: expressing, calming or repressing.

Calming and repressing the anger involve taking care of yourself, building up your tolerance for frustration and changing your mindset, like maintaining a positive outlook. Expressing the anger means reviewing the way you communicate your anger.
Acknowledge you might need to learn how to manage your anger.
Listen if more than one person around you tell you that you have a problem. You are either angry too often or in too big a burst, or both. Let this mature in you, and organize to deal with it.


Express the anger: Learn techniques for assertiveness
There’s an art to saying no and not letting little things blow out of proportion. Assertiveness is about being self-assured without aggressiveness, that is stating your boundaries, needs, and rights firmly enough, without ever disrespecting the other by ignoring their rights and needs. In essence, you express negative feelings in an appropriate way. Some of us believe that assertiveness and aggressiveness are the same things. Not so. Plenty of social and communication training skills are available out there to teach you assertiveness such as CBT, conflict management, anger management and more. By being assertive, you do not build frustration and resentment; you do not bottle up upset. In turn, you won’t blow up later.
Calm the anger: slow down.
When you’re angry, you can’t think properly, and you can’t express yourself properly. Being assertive, that is expressing your boundaries, expectations and disappointments only happen when you have a measure of calm. You can choose to leave a situation immediately, as soon as you see it develop. You can also learn to slow down and relax over the long term and train yourself to remain calm:
There are plenty of tips for mindfulness and quick relaxation on the net, and books to teach you relaxation techniques. Here are some:
• Using the power of the breath is immensely helpful. Breathe deeply, and slowly, from your diaphragm; breathing from your chest won’t help. Picture your breath coming up from your stomach area.
• Slowly repeat a word or phrase such as “relax,” “breathe,” “let go,” “take it easy.” Repeat it to yourself while breathing deeply until you feel calmer.
• Visualize a relaxing experience, from either your memory or your imagination.
• Practice gentle, nonstrenuous yoga-type exercises to relax your muscles.
• Check your pulse regularly: first, know your baseline or rest rate. If you exceed 90 beats per minutes without doing any exercise, chances are you are building up to an explosion. In that case, practice the above exercises.

Relaxation techniques also allow you to develop empathy through mindfulness or consciousness of what is going on around you. Practice these techniques daily. Learn to use them automatically when you’re in a tense situation.
Calm the anger: Change the way you think.

Thinking gets exaggerated when you’re angry.

• Replace self-talk such as “this is terrible, “awful”, “ruining the day” by words and thoughts such as “it is frustrating.”, “I’m upset about it.”, “it is not the end of the world,” and so on.
• Remove the words “always” and “never” from your speech. These words help you justify your anger but are hardly ever true. So instead of “this *#$ car never works,” choose “the car’s not working.” And instead of “you’re always late”, select “you are late.” The previous sentence alienates and humiliates people. The latter states a fact.
• Remember this mantra: “getting angry is not going to fix anything”.
• Remind yourself: “ no the world is not out to get me. I am just going through a rough spot. “
• Remember that when angry, you are demanding that things go your way. You want fairness, appreciation, agreement, in essence, you must obtain what you want. Is this “always” a rational expectation? We all want that, but, we also know that we may be disappointed as not all our desires can be met at all times.
• Interrupt your thought cycles. Anger start when a small situation is blown out of proportion. Ask yourself: “am I giving it too much importance?” Smile at the situation when you realize you have overblown it.

Express or calm the anger: Journaling.
• To stop the anger from taking hold, you need to know your triggers, what events or persons cause you to react. An event (trigger) brings an emotion (anger) and thoughts (such as measuring the unfairness of the moment), which in turn lead to behavior (screaming, etc.).
• Write down what was happening around you every time you got angry. The more you know about the causes, the more you can act.

Calm the anger: Interrupt your anger cycle.

• Practice slow breathing as soon as you feel your tension rise. Don’t breathe deeper, but longer than usual inhales and exhales. Breathe from the diaphragm, not the chest ( the latter is too shallow).
• Take 3 to 20 minutes to do a physical activity. A brisk walk is enough.
• Distract yourself.
• Ask yourself: does this situation truly require my attention and my energy? (most of the outbursts start with a very small thing)

Calm the anger: Problem Solving
Sometimes, our anger and frustration are caused by very real problems in our lives. Anger, in that case, is often a healthy, natural response to these difficulties. Not every problem has a solution, so don’t add to your frustrations by seeking a solution that doesn’t exist.
Instead of focusing on finding the solution, concentrate on how you handle and face the problem. Make a plan, and check your progress along the way. Resolve to give it your best, but do not punish yourself if you can’t solve the issue immediately.

Next > Strategies for keeping anger at bay (part 4)



Anger Management Strategies for keeping anger at bay (part 2 of 4)

 What we’re told about anger – the myths.

“Getting angry is destructive and harmful”.
We believe that we will be damaging to a person or a relationship. Anger is the way to make a person take notice that you have a grievance. Anger is natural and can be an appropriate response, that is justified if you are betrayed, physically attacked, or subject to major social injustice.
→ Express your complaint immediately, as it happens if you can refrain from blowing up. Otherwise, wait a bit. Say “ I feel angry, when…..” or “I feel angry, because…..”. It will feel less destructive to the other as it does not involve tantrums, punching or shouting.

“Anger and love don’t mix”.
Hence you would believe that you should never feel anger toward someone you love. We can be angry at our love ones. What matters is to be firm, assertive about the grievance.

“If I show my anger, I’ll destroy her.”
People who appear frail and unable to cope with your burst might be manipulating you. You think they can’t deal with it. This is seldom so (unless of course, you express your anger destroying things, or the person is seriously raw on a particular topic). This might lead you to bottle up anger or to show your resentment at this situation through passive aggressive actions.
→ Express the anger to open the reality of your relationship with the other person. Subsequent anger will be less explosive.

“Getting angry is not the proper way to behave.”
This is impossible. We are biologically wired for anger. We need to express it when felt. The real question here is “how will I express that I am angry in a proper way”?
→ if your grievance is genuine, anger brings it to the notice of others. If properly handled it then leads to a resolution of the problem through discussion.

“If I allow myself to get angry, I might lose control and cause injury.”
Expressing anger directly does not necessarily lead to catastrophic results. Permitting the release of this emotion allows you to get in touch with it and less frightened by it, leading to better control over it.
-→ if your grievance is appropriate, express it. Assess the magnitude of its expression and how it is expressed (e.g., does it lead you to criticize or diminish the other?) Self-control is everything, which means to have the ability to calm down, on your own.

“If I get angry, they will retaliate.”
This is a childhood belief from seeing adults express anger and punish you.
→ Not likely to happen in adulthood unless you are dealing with a disordered or vindictive person.

“If I get angry, they will behave.”
No relationship ever can be based on fear. If you use anger to manipulate another into submission, people will avoid you.

“If I get angry, I’ll be rejected.”
A negative response to your anger does not imply reject.
→ While negative reaction might happen in a social or work relationship, an indication of closeness with a partner is their acceptance of who you are as a real person.

“We inherit anger”.
It doesn’t matter if dad or mom were angry people. You might have been born with a more reactive temper. This is not the issue. Anger is a learned behavior and can be changed.

Next: Being Angry without being destructive – Strategies for keeping anger at bay. (part 3)

Coping with sadness and grief

Pain and sorrow are natural feelings that serve an adaptive purpose. Disappointment helps you change your perspective on life and learn from experiences. These feelings allow you to adapt to changed circumstances, such as after the loss of a job, or a loved one. These feelings deserve your full attention at first. Allow yourself to experience them fully for a while, because there’s no clock, no defined length time on how long you should experience sadness, disappointment, and grief. Healing, adjusting, recovering a zest for life, taking new directions, filling gaps, and exploring the new are processes that start as you experience sadness and grief, and all take time.

There’s not set time as to ‘how long’ is good enough. You only know this.

The issue is that you need to avoid prolonged grieving and watch for any sign that your feelings are persisting past their expiration date. If you find that you become stuck in a downward spiral of paralysis, and you are unable to move forward, then now is the time to distance yourself from sadness and start building resources to grow through life’s challenges. Watch out for signs of becoming depressed, like seeing the world as a hopeless place, isolating yourself, and feeling inadequacy, guilt, shame or low self-worth.

Some resources are demonstrated scientifically to work better than others. Among them:

Gratitude. Counter your sadness and the gloom and doom that accompanies it by listing, every day, three good things that happened today. Keep a journal, or write them on post-it notes, have them readily available.

Get grounded. Some call it living the present, or practicing mindfulness.   Simply take the time to notice what is happening in the here and now. Use your senses,  – vision, hearing, touching, tasting and smelling – to become fully aware of what is going on around you. It is a kind of stop sign, that tells you to stop thinking about the grief and feeling it, if only for a little while.

Get going. There’s a tendency to stop doing the very things that make you happy and it perpetuates the sadness. Write down your moments of fun, and pay attention to activities you used to enjoy. Build them back into your life. Actions and behaviors will impact your feelings positively.

Connect. We’re biologically wired to connect with others. It makes us feel safe, calm, secure, and happy. Grief does the opposite. It disconnects you from others and bring our attention fully to the self. List all the people who are your sources of support. Now reach out to them.

Help others. We’re also wired to give to something larger than ourselves. Grief and sadness collapse awareness and lead to brooding and isolation. Get out of your ego-system and embrace a greater purpose through various contributions of your time such as volunteering.

Value yourself. Take a chance to reflect on your values, strengths and passions, what you do and what defines you. You’ve come so far in life for a reason. Use your strengths to plan how you are going to move on.

Face your sadness. Efforts to numb the pain with alcohol, oversleeping or social media overuse will be temporary. You would be delaying the pain, not erasing it. Escapist behaviors might also have consequences that add to your bag of pains. You only heal by confronting the pain. Allow yourself to cry or grieve in any way that is best for you. Acknowledgement of the pain is the first step toward recovering from it.

Bitter Divorces Are Destructive

Acrimonious divorces can bring you down to your knees financially, and destroy your health. Worse, they will emotionally injure your children.

The difference between a bitter and a healthy divorce depends on the choices you and your ex-partner make. A divorce involves a couple, not individuals. One or both of you can choose to have a bitter divorce. Conversely, both of you can choose to have an amicable one.

Most separations start with civility. However, one of the many causes or outcomes of divorce involves issues that developed during the marriage, such as resentment or an injury to self that can no longer be healed throught talking and repairs attempts. Divorce allows a partner to express their hurt and anger by opposing their former mate through the legal processs.

The fight might involve manipulation, generally about the children, the finances, or any form of social pressure. As one party throws allegations, the other feels a need to protect themselves and to respond in kind. An inexorable, escalating spiral of tit-for-tat retaliation takes place.

Characteristics of acrimonious divorces. They:

  • Lead to litigated adversarial stances.
  • Make it difficult for you not to counter if the other is warring against you.
  • Create bad feelings and anger that cannot be kept under control, and usually include  attempts to vindicate the past (e.g., he was unfaithful, she was a neglectful mother)
  • Involve mutual self-defeat.
  • Cause the children to suffer emotionally, as negative emotions cripple the parents
  • Mess up your health  during the process, which could last several months if not years. It could ruin any opportunity to rebuild a better life and relationship.
  • Are costly. Your economic resources could be used for your and your children’s’ benefit instead of being squandered.
  • You all lose.

Characteristics of healthy divorces:

  • They are civil, cooperative, and sometimes even amicable. Animosity and battling are kept to a minimum.
  • The reasons making a divorce go bad are fully understood and avoided (see next paragraph).
  • Have legal, economic and emotional objectives: they end the marriage within a reasonable timeframe without massive legal and other fees, distribute assets and income fairly, economic sacrifices are equally shared, both partners are allowed to grieve the end of the marriage and each can move on to new relationships without baggage.
  • They foster a sense of economic justice and basic trust as the other is not demonized. Communication remains effective, with mutual goodwill.
  • They achieve legitimate and positive goals for yourselves and your children.
  • Settlement agreements are negotiated before going to court. Economic issues such as child and spousal support are resolved, the property is equitably divided, and mutual rights and responsibilities as parents are spelled out in a fair custody agreement.
  • They minimize emotional impact on children and help them adjust to a new situation.
  • They transition to a new life for your all.

Reasons divorces go sour:

  • Though separating, you are still married. No matter how much distrust, pain and anger you feel, and the need for vindication or revenge, you are still emotionally connected. Fighting through a divorce is a means to ‘stay together’ for the duration of the proceedings.
  • There is no economic justice, such as an enormous financial disparity between the partners, where one feels victimized by the other.
  • There is no trust: one has demonized the other and has not given the benefit of the doubt when disputes arise.
  • No communication skills: communications are uneffective and their style is not conducive to future cooperative parenting.
  • There is no goodwill. Each expartner wishes ill upon the other and does not support the children in accepting the other’s new mate or lifestyle.
  • The nature of the legal system is adversarial and based on opposition instead of cooperation.
  • One or both partners’ behavior is abusive, stemming from a need for control or revenge, anger, flaring emotions, and because all that was disliked in the other and messed the relationship up is  now resurfacing during divorce: years of managed dysfunctions will now explode in the space of a few weeks. Tactics will include:
    – Contesting parental fitness (invoking drug abuse or various addictions, irresponsible, neglectful or abusive parenting, mental instability, reckless spending, etc.)
    – Endless spats of grounded or groundless allegations, some designed to drag the divorce and cause financial harm.
    – Intimidation and scare tactics, with threats  such as “I’ll get custody of the kids”, “I won’t pay”, etc.
    – Hiding assets well ahead of requesting for divorce or during the divorce, or failing to account accurately for one’s possessions.
  • The impossibility to reconcile emotions and rationality. On one hand, one must fight against the fear of becoming economically destitute, to protect self against the new ‘enemy’, or worry that the children might be stolen or their mind  poisoned by the other. On the other hand, there is the memory that there  was love once and the knowledge that the expartner is the key to the children’s emotional and psychological health.
  • If settlement agreements are unfair and unworkable or incomplete,  the feelings of bitterness and injustice that emanate from them lead to regrettable actions, such as defaulting on child support obligations or not adequately meeting the children’s economic needs. When flawed, the settlement will need to be reworked in court.
  • Negative feelings interfere with readjustment, growth, and new relationships.
  • Social circles are broken as family, friends and acquaintances take side, and sometimes even interfere with the divorce process.
  • Fears about custody arrangements and alienation from the children.

You can take measures to protect yourself and the children, and to  ensure a reasonable divorce or at least,  contain the effects of a bad one:

  • Minimize stressors in your life. Allegations and fights may be part of your divorce process. Each time you are accused of whatever fault by your partner’s lawyer , you will be emotionally flooded. Flooding impedes rational thinking and you could make a mistake in defending yourself as you create doomsday scenarios in your head and succumb to panic.
  • Whenever an allegation is thrown at you, sleep if off. Do not answer immediately. Allow your feeling of  injustice or rage to wither before you formulate an answer.
  • Be prepared. Anticipate your worst case scenario, such as losing significant parts of your assets, losing visitation or shared custody of the children, not getting enough financial support, etc. Plan accordingly. Follow up with a best case scenario and a realistic scenario will emerge.
  • Answer allegations one at a time. One at a time. Sort and address each issue separately when several are raised all at once. Collect whatever evidence you have, text messages, documents, statements, pictures, videos, any recorded media, and organize them in a folder, one for each allegation. Give that folder to your lawyer. Keep adding to it. Whether you ex partner’s allegation is correct or baseless, you need to collect mitigating evidence or evidence to the contrary. If you make an allegation, be prepared to stack supporting evidence.
    – Was he a big spender who imperiled family finances? Was she a gambler? Back it up. Get the receipts and credit card statements, match them against your documented income by way of bank or other statements.
    – Did he abuse the children? Back it up. Get records from doctors and counselors or ask for psych evaluations of the children. If you have photographs or texts exchanged after such incidents, print them out. If you are the accused, and you are certain that she purports such allegations so to deprive you of your custody rights, then appoint third parties to do the discovery for you. As paid and impartial professionals, they’ll bring their findings to the table.
    – Does he say that you are preventing access to the children? Keep a record of calls and visits. Stop attempting to minimize visits if no visible abuse has taken place.
    – Does he say that you are a drunk….. and you are? Mitigate. Show proof that you are seeking help for your alcoholism.
    – Does she say that you have some mental issues, and you do? Show evidence that you are undergoing therapy, taking medication, and seeking help.
    – What if you are not an alcoholic, you are not suffering from mental issues? Get a report from a GP and a specialist, then get a psych assessment.
    – Does he say that you are unwilling to compromise and you make unreasonable demands? Call a mediator, and show proof that you attempted conciliation on whatever issue he accused you of stalling.
  • Concentrate on the big issues. Petty ‘he says-she says’ fights  get expensive when handled by lawyers. Get third parties to help you, understanding that you, and you alone can keep your agents in check.
  • Do not attack the character of your ex-partner, especially to the children.  This could be construed as an attempt to alienate the children.Concentrate on managing your partner’s behaviors instead.
  • Keep it business-like. Don’t add fuel to the fire. If answering emails or texts is too emotionally taxing and risk a scathing reply, then have someone else handle it, or wait to read them.

Note: I  worked for the State of Colorado district courts as an investigator,  and as advocate in cases involving  custody of children caught in domestic disputes, separations and divorce. I was appointed to act in the best interest of the child. As such I am very familiar with acrimonious domestic and divorce cases, and I am fully trained to assess  impacts on the children caught in such situations.

How to Regain and Develop Focus and Productivity at Work and in your Personal Life.

Our minds wander about 50% of the time.* Add to this work and social interruptions and it is no surprise that you would have a hard time staying focused.

There’s another dimension to losing focus. More subtly, as our attention becomes divided and our thoughts fragmented, switching tasks demands more brain power and energy expenditure than concentrating on one thing at a time*.

Switching focus takes only 1/10th of a second, but it might add up to a 40% productivity loss in one day. The switching also results in cognitive overload, which is extremely tiring to the mind and the body. Further, the more you lose focus and turn to distractions, the more you become unable to sift relevant from redundant information. You are no longer able to learn and apply knowledge effectively.

The primary reason for a loss of focus and productivity is nowadays mostly created by the incessant interruptions from digital media. I will use this as an example in showing you how you can regain more focus and increase your productivity.

Are you like me juggling professional activities, family life, and perhaps an active social sporting schedule and a major project on the side (I’m writing a doc thesis)? Somehow your core activities need to fit into your weekly schedule and cannot be abandoned.

  1. Ask yourself “How efficiently do I make use of my time and where do I waste it?” and “What do I want instead?”

Formulate an intention clearly, because motivation gets you started, and motivation arises from the benefit you perceive in pursuing a course of action.
Precise formulation is an important first step to creating a positive frame of mind so that change can occur.* Research shows that behavioral change only happens while in active, positive states. The intention could be something like “Becoming focused and productive by removing needless distractions and only allowing a maximum of one hour a day for social media browsing by April. ” A clear intention states the goal, quantifies it, identifies resources and hurdles, and has a start and end date.

Since I could not answer the question, I began examining how I spent my days.

  1. Start with monitoring how you spend your day.

Set up a recording system. It could be your diary. Start writing everything you do for a week. Do so even if it is only a 15-minute activity. You are observing yourself. Keep yourself motivated by also getting some feedback from others: are you spending too much time facing your phone instead of people?

This exercise helps you determine your attention-grabbing activities or hurdles. The chances are that they have a pattern, such as a time of the day at which they occur most often, or, in particular, situations such as after an upset, or when you are tired.

You will identify the pattern by the end of one week. Gaining this clarity is essential to keep you motivated as you pursue your stated intention or goal.

I recorded my daily activities every 30 minutes and found several time-wasters after one week of self-monitoring. More importantly, I discovered that I would drift up to three hours a day on the web and handling irrelevant emails. I also noticed my pattern. It would start like this: I’d work for a while, and I’d turn to an incoming IM or an email notification flashing on my screen. I would open the mail, follow an online thread, then click on embedded links, find my way through attention-grabbing headlines, and I would then discover who are the 25 celebrities who have aged terribly. One hour later, indeed, my 5 minutes of IM interruption would have become an extended digital wander. I would lose any sense of time, erring through a stream of entertaining but irrelevant information. I added up to 19 hours a week wasted on the internet. I believe to be an average.

This wandering process is addictive because the net and smartphones deliver exactly what our brain craves: novelty, constant stimulation, and immediate gratification.

  1. Process your findings, but don’t implement a radical plan yet. 

As an immediate gut reaction, I tested sheer willpower for a while, restricting access to social media and apps, and scheduling every minute of my day on one of my core activities instead. I lasted three days and spent the fourth on an internet binge.

So much for my ambitious plan to eliminate distractions. I concluded that I needed not to eliminate time-wasters, but create a dynamic balance between the important stuff, my core activities, and the addictive fun of strolling on social medias when I needed a break. I also systematically listed the time wasters, selected the mostly harmless ones, and thought about how many of them I needed to be able to last through my day.

  1. Implement a progressive course of action. Motivation only works so far as you can create new habits.

Habits are formed one at a time, through repetition.

Try this first: when you wake up in the morning, immediately make a mental or written note of the 3 tasks you need to accomplish today to support any one of your core activities.   Then ask yourself “what do I need to do now?” and then, “is this really what I want/need to do?”. Once you have your answer, schedule the most important activities in your calendar, preferably first thing in the morning. Block whatever time you need to complete the whole task or a chunk in your diary. Allow this activity to become all-absorbing for that period. Commit to switching off the phone, the internet and other distractions during that time. Then do it. Notice how long you can last this way. This becomes your baseline.

You are now applying principles often discussed in time management: “one thing at a time” , “batch processing,” “working on what’s important first,” or using “concentrated time.”

My use of a progressive course of action is deliberate. Willpower is an energy that comes in limited supply*.

Discipline is an action that requires moment by moment intention and focus,- the very thing you want to regain and strengthen-, and, like any task, it is tiring to the brain and cannot be sustained through a whole day. Willpower is like a muscle, and growing it happens with the implementation of a rigorous training schedule that makes it stronger over time.

A behavior is a set of habitual actions. Forging a new course implies creating some new habits and only one at a time, so that your daily reservoir of will and discipline is not depleted. A habit, as it becomes an automatic repetition, requires less and less energy to sustain over time. Once seamlessly integrated into your life, you can then move on to the next new habit you want to form. Productivity and focus derive from handling one task at a time,  a wholly different concept to multi-tasking. There is no such thing as multi-tasking: the human brain is wired only for task-switching.*

  1. Add more periods of focus to that initial distraction free activity.

So far you only have one daily activity that is subject to your focus-enhancement goal. You have not yet attempted to disrupt or curtail your distraction pattern. You are allowing for the new routine in step 4 to become ingrained and automatic. It takes up to three weeks for this integration to occur.

At that point, move on to scheduling a new  activity, respecting the no-interruption rule suggested in step 4. Slowly integrate that new task in your day. Allow it to encroach on the distraction pattern you have uncovered in step 3.

  1. Test at which point you can no longer tolerate distraction-free time.

Whether you were able to work without distraction for 1, 3 or 6 hours, there come a point where your attention is exhausted and needs a rest. Take a break, and allow your favorite distraction to take precedence for a while. Monitor yourself and do not allow that break to exceed a given amount of time. You need to set that duration in a realistic way: the length of the break fits the length and intensity of previous work. Stick to the period you set. An alarm is a good way to get started.

  1. Exercise your focus  before you move on to lengthier periods of attention.

Keep scheduling a suitable amount of time for each new task, and repeat steps 4 to 7. Slowly increment your focus time, beyond what you uncovered at step 6. Week after week, you will find that you are flexing your focus muscle with more strength.

Be realistic. If your stamina, health, and other issues do not allow you to exceed more than one, two, five or six hours of focus, do not attempt to push greatly beyond your current limit. You would demotivate yourself. Simply identify what is your optimum, most productive pattern and challenge it from time to time.

  1. Continue building your attention practice.

You do this by creating routines and automatisms, or activities that you do without thinking about them. Although some activities might only be a few minutes in duration, consider treating them like any task you would start in Step 4 above. These micro-tasks are actually going to support decluttering your life, increase your wellbeing, vitality and productivity, and will keep strengthening your ability to focus.

  1. For each goal that you’ve reached……. schedule and set a reward, and give it to yourself.

An alternative is to think about what you have to lose if you don’t get your work done, though it is not as fun!


The following are routines that promote productivity and sharpened focus. Remember to only incorporate one at a time into your new routine.

–   Planning activities: taking a few minutes to plan your day and week ahead ; scheduling repeating blocks of your essential or regular activities ; waking up every morning deciding on today’s most relevant activities or/and going to bed and thinking of tomorrow’s important task.

–   Planning short recovery activities during the day. Recovery activities counter stress, even if only a few minutes in duration: meditating, taking a power nap, walking briskly to the coffee machine, using relaxation and mindfulness techniques.

–   Creating an “offline or digital free” zone in your day, in your week, or as a vacation during the year; leaving your digital devices out of the bedroom.

–   Learning to check and change your perspective: focus on what you need to make things happen, as opposed to rationalizing why they did not occur. Take 5 minutes to brainstorm, assess, plan and plot before you start a new task.

–   Ditching drama: review your email list, it might be time to unsubscribe a few senders; think about a conflict you may have with a colleague or a friend and sort it out ASAP (Don’t let the issue gain control of your mind. It is a minefield as any unpleasant thoughts are likely to lead you to seek distractions.)



*A Wandering Mind Is an Unhappy Mind:

* Research on Multitasking:

* Fostering positive emotions for Intentional Change – an introduction: