You can utilize three approaches to discipline yourself to handle anger. They are: (1) You can let the emotion express itself (and thereby become a victim of it); (2) You can inhibit it (and live with the stress); or (3) You can control it by redirecting your attention.
The most successful approach is the third alternative. Redirecting your thinking controls any emotion because emotion always follows cognition. Your self-talk or thinking—along with input from your senses (what you see, hear, taste, smell, or touch)—becomes your awareness. Therefore, redirecting your thoughts automatically controls your emotions because emotion follows your attention.
This is not new. My grandmother told my mother to clean the stove when she was angry. Of course, what occurred was that by engaging in some other activity, her attention was automatically redirected and thereby the emotion subsided.
Therefore, do not respond to an emotional outbreak. If you do, you are sending the message, “Get emotional and you can have your way.” Once an emotion erupts, redirect the person’s attention to something else until the outburst subsides.
Here is a simple technique parents and teachers can use with a young person who is demonstrating anger. Spread out your arms and have the child do what you do. Count backwards together from 10 – 1 as the arms slowly come together. When the child’s attention is redirected to the counting and moving the arms, the erupting emotion will completely subside. Again, the reason is that emotion always follows thinking, commonly referred to as cognition.
This discipline of teaching yourself to change your thoughts to change your emotions requires practice. However, when you become self-disciplined to make this procedure a habit, you will become in charge of your emotions—rather than a victim of them.