GT Life

Who pushes your buttons?

Adam Clark of Gay Life Coach gives us his tips for staying in control of your reactions

I’ve often heard people say that they got wound up because someone “pushed their buttons”. When I was out on Sunday night, I knocked into a guy and split some of his beer. I mumbled an apology and carried on my way. He wasn’t happy, though. He wanted to make something of it. “You bumped into me” he shouted angrily at me. I had pushed his buttons. I wonder if he was trying to push mine.

Over the years I’ve schooled myself not to react in such situations. This approach has come from my belief that I want to save my energy for things that are worth expending it on. To my mind it is a complete waste of our energy to get drawn into an exchange with a stranger about something so trivial as a few drops of spilled beer. I therefore ignored the man’s cries and disappeared into the crowd.

We sometimes get wound up when certain things happen to us, or when someone interacts with us in a given way. I want to suggest that we can learn to school our reaction to events around us. Much of my work as a coach is about helping people to see that their reaction to things is something that they can learn to control. Just because someone is apt to wind us up, it doesn’t mean that this pattern is destined to continue forever. You can learn not to react, not to get wound up. Not to let them push your buttons.

I’ve seen that as people learn to regulate their reactions to things, their sense of being in control of their life increases. The impotent rage that some have felt each time they’ve been stuck on a train that’s not moving, for example, goes. Others have learnt how not to get wound up by pressure piled on by colleagues. This reduces their stress levels and makes them open to ways to improve the situation. When we’re wound up we can’t see clearly. We tend towards black-and-white thinking (“Nothing’s going right. Typical, this always happens. I can’t cope.”) We expend energy on complaining or even carping, when it could be spent on making things better.

Whatever the situation you find yourself in, no matter how powerless you feel, you can always do something about your reaction.

This spring, why not conserve your energy for the things that matter? Don’t let others wind you up. Instead, use your energy to do something positive, maybe even new and creative.

You decide which of your buttons you want others to push.

Take control of your reactions

1. Stop

If you find yourself getting wound up, the first thing to do is to stop. Acknowledge what’s happening and take a deep breath. If it’s possible to get away from the cause of your discomfort, do. For example, if someone is winding you up on a train because they’re speaking loudly on their mobile phone, don’t tut and exchange knowing looks with your fellow passengers, get up and move.

2. Deal with the right person

If you’re at a station and had to wait half an hour for a taxi because of the length of the queue, it’s childish and a waste of time to have a go at the driver of the taxi which eventually picks you up. Similarly, what is the point of berating the check-out clerk about the length of a queue in a supermarket? If the situation means that much to you, speak to someone who can do something about it (like the manager). In most cases, though, I think it’s better just to move on. You may feel that you want to let some of your frustration out through having a go at a clerk, for example, but I believe the best way is not to allow yourself to get frustrated in the first place.

3. Distract yourself

One of the techniques for preventing frustration from building up in the first place is to distract yourself. Think about something good that is coming your way soon. When is that next holiday, and what are you going to do on it? Try looking at the people around you. Look at their faces. What are their stories? But make sure you do this in a friendly, open way, not in a conspiratorial way. If you go looking for others to share in your frustrations, you’ll wind yourself up.

4. Put things in context

When we’re in the thick of a situation that is costing us energy, it can grow out of all proportions. “Typical. This always happens” we can say to ourselves. The reality is usually more subtle. We don’t always get drawn into conflict with our bosses or partners. If you manage to think about the grand scheme of things, the frustration you’re facing can pale into insignificance. I think about my beautiful niece and nephew in such situations. I remember their smiles and their childlike approach to life. This connects me with the wider world and puts things in context.

5. Do something positive

Action is a good antidote to stress and frustration. Determine the things you can do. In the short term, you may just have to buckle down and get on with the tasks you’ve been given at work. But you can resolve to talk to your boss or your colleagues so that next time this situation arises, you’ve got some support. And when you get on with things, you’ll find that your mood lifts.

You can learn to school your reactions. You decide which buttons are pushed. Use this knowledge to empower you to live a fuller life.

To read more about how Adam Clark and Tony Dines help boost the self-esteem of gay men, see the Gay Life Coach website.

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