Life Coach: Good Vibrations!

What comments, issues, or people ‘press your buttons’?

Richard Blakeborough suggests you identify your Anti Calm triggers to deal with stress peacefully.

My dictionary describes the meaning of the word calm as stillness, tranquility, free from agitation or disturbance, serenity. When my children used to want to push my buttons and make me angry they would say “calm down!”, to which I often responded “I am xxxx calm”, normally screamed at the top of my lungs with veins protruding unattractively from my neck.

Becalmed, in a nautical sense, means to shelter from or deprive a ship of wind. I am sure you can imagine one of those tall ships, sails unfurled, barely moving because there is no wind. In fact there is another expression, which refers to a particular area near the equator where there is little wind. Many of us use this expression to describe being low or down or unhappy. When we have such feelings, we say we’re in the doldrums.

I recently gave a presentation at the prison here in Christchurch and mentioned to the guards that there were a couple of large, loud, aggressive, tattooed men in the audience who seemed to hold sway with the other guys. They seemed to dominate and to intimidate. “Never be worried by them,” said one of the guards. “Worry about the calm quiet ones, they are the most dangerous!”

The descriptions of calm contain the nucleus of what we are exploring here. Calm is a state of mind. For most people, being calm is when they don’t react to things around them in an emotional or negative way. They retain a sort of inner tranquillity. Or, to use the dictionary definition, they are free from agitation or disturbance. For others it can mean the total control of all emotions, especially negative feelings, leaving their minds free of disturbance so they can hone in on what they really want to focus on. In the case of my prison friends, it is to control their emotions to a level where they focus only on their own mental and physical wellbeing.

As I write this article, I am aware of two other things. Firstly, I myself am hardly a calm person, so how can I offer advice to others about how to attain this quality? Secondly, to know calm it would be useful to experience it. Not being a calm person is still useful in assisting us to become one, because it means we know the ‘other side’. It means we know what not being calm is, and understand the negative emotions that can flood us when we act or behave in a manner that is not calm.

Now, assuming we want to be in that state of calm, or at least achieve this more regularly (rather than assuming we can somehow slip straight into a nirvana-like situation and feeling bad about ourselves when this doesn’t happen), let us explore three ideas.

1 Be aware of Anti Calm triggers

2 Be the observer of behaviour, not the behaviour itself

3 Find a way to experience calm so you know what it feels like when you want to feel calmer

What are your Anti Calm triggers? What are the things that happen, or are said, or situations you find yourself in, that trigger the negative emotions that are the opposite of calm? Take five minutes and write some of them down. You know what they are. You know that, given certain factors, you will react in a certain way, because you always do. Then review your triggers, an exercise you’ll no doubt find interesting.

For me, a sure fire trigger with my children that inevitably produced an Anti Calm reaction when they were younger was their use of that expression calm down. It was normally used when explaining to the girls how something they have done or said wasn’t acceptable. Initially I was typically calm and not expressing negative emotions. But if they dropped this phrase into the conversation I started to lose my calmness and soon moved to negative emotions.

Want to make me angry? Ask me to keep calm or to calm down. The thing is, I now realise these simple words somehow trigger my Anti Calm. I now look for this trigger and have a more useful response when it occurs. I smile and stop talking. That’s it! I choose to retain a modicum of serenity at those moments, which is how we are defining calm.

As a strategy, then, I have looked for my personal Anti Calm triggers and decided in advance how I will respond to them. Please note, I am not always successful, but have managed to reduce the negative reactions more often than not, which is a move towards being calm. Another strategy is to be the ‘observer of reactions, not the reactions’.

The basic idea is that one takes a mental step back in aggravating situations and ‘observes oneself’. You impartially look at how the Anti Calm situation unfolds and observe your reactions and response. This is a similar idea to the old advice to take a deep breath and count to 10 when you feel angry, another technique to halt pre-programmed Anti Calm patterns and substitute more useful or powerful emotions (calm, pleasure, happiness).

Finally, it is good to be able to recognise Anti Calm triggers and behaviours, but what if you haven’t experienced or don’t remember what calm feels like so you can replace those more negative feelings?

Find a way to experience it!

Identify a thing or a thought that leaves you feeling serene and in control of your emotions. For some it may be gardening, reading, or another favourite pastime. One of the methods I employ is to meditate. Through this habit I am able to calm my mind, and now at least know what the state of calm feels like. Meditation doesn’t need to be a mystical thing. My first experience of meditation was in a group setting whilst learning accountancy theory! The course leader asked us to sit still, close our eyes and listen to some music (rainforest sounds). We did nothing more than sit, close our eyes, and listen for 10 minutes, which did induce a state of calm: relaxed, feeling good, clear headed, and free of disturbance.

Now, I am not suggesting that serene feeling stayed with us for the entire day! But it did give all of us a brief glimpse of how good calmness can feel, and how we could call forth this feeling at any time by being still, closing our eyes and focusing on something that brings feelings of peace (music, breathing, the sound of the sea).Calm is a state of mind. We can choose it. We can experience it. We can manage our Anti Calm situations and triggers.

And surely, in our busy lives of chaos, stress, and constant reaction, any time of being calm, if only for 10 minutes a day, brings mental and physical benefits.

Try these techniques in the coming weeks to see if, like me, you can identify any people, issues, or words that press your buttons. Teach yourself to switch these off so you feel calmer and can be at peace at moments you would otherwise have found stressful.

© Family Care NZ

Photo:, Hefr

Richard Blakeborough is a life coach and regular Family Care NZ contributor. One day Richard was a fit and healthy man, then his cardiologist told him he had heart disease and needed a triple bypass.

His e-books, Life After A Bypass and That’s A Big Fat Lie Richard, chronicle his journey following heart surgery and subsequent departure from the corporate world to become a life coach.