columbia gorge storm

Dealing With Emotional Lightning Strikes

A moody day overlooking the Columbia Gorge.

When I get hit in the head, I morph from Calm Dakota into Dak the Destroyer, Wannabe Viking Marauder.

Take the time a college roommate (Chelsea’s brother) tagged me in the head with a rubber ball as I studied for an engineering test. RWWWARG. Dak the Destroyer grabbed my chunky TI-89 calculator and angrily launched it for a direct, ship-sinking missile hit.

I instantly regretted it…like I always do when my brain short-circuits, overloads my reasoning facilities and proceeds to impulsive action.

Of course, we don’t want to do this. Yelling at a friend, reacting strongly to a partner’s comment, creating a rift at work – ideally, we avoid these things like they’re thirsty 12-pound mosquitoes.

Training for Lightning Strikes

I love Brene Brown’s rule for these situations: if her face is hot from anger or shame, she doesn’t “text, talk or type.” No interactions while she’s flooded and the filters between brain and mouth are broken. (Oddly, she doesn’t mention chucking calculators.)

In electronics, capacitors are devices that soak up a spike in current when things go awry. Rather than melting wires and arcing all over the place, it’s an energy vacuum cleaner. SHVOOOO, dangerous energy sucked into safety.

I think of Brene’s “no texting, talking or typing” as a technique to load a personal capacitor. It allows us to absorb emotional lightning strikes, defuse intensity, and safely return to normal operation.

Whether we’re hammering a reply to an inane Facebook post (“I can’t even believe this?!”) or unloading on our partners before we fully process a situation, remember the capacitor buried deep inside us.

First, we safely store that energy until we can release it without burning ourselves – and others. Then (and only then) we air the hard conversations that are worth having.

But aim for mild shocks in those conversations, static electricity style. Not vicious lightning, the scorching, hateful kind. That we defuse, let it ping around in our personal capacitors before we release it on others.

The Good News: We Can Improve

I haven’t thrown a calculator for years, but I still make mistakes.
One (lame) excuse is that I worked construction in high school. Let’s just say that calm, calculating behavior is an uncommon approach to dealing with feelings on job sites… Swearing or destroying a wall? HELL YEAH.

Still, how we deal with personal lightning strikes isn’t the important thing. What matters is having some plan for when things go awry.

Here are a few things that build my personal capacitance as I soldier on, chipping away at old habits and reactionary ways:

1. Meditation

After five months straight of daily meditation (<–not-so-humble brag), I still can’t levitate for an hour or slow my heart rate to 10 bpm. However, I like the concept of non-attachment to thoughts – hey look, a thought, neato – without diving deep into it. (For great meditations, check out the app Insight Timer.)

2. Practice Tough Conversations:

As Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius said, “When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: the people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous and surly.”

You probably aren’t an emperor (or are you?!), but it’s powerful to recognize that people will do frustrating things. (Check out The Daily Stoic for an easy entree to Stoicism or the book Meditations by Marcus Aurelius.

3. Calm Role Models

Seek out quiet, powerful leaders who teach us to be better. For example, Yvon Chouinard’s book Let My People Go Surfing inspired my approach to business. For a comprehensive take on leadership, I also recommend The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene.

Personal Capacitors For The Win

Next time lightning strikes your romantic relationship, during a work meeting, via a tough friend conversation, or just someone on Facebook who you immediately want to throttle, pause for a second.

Silently repeat NO TEXT, TALK OR TYPE as your personal capacitor diffuses the lightning strike. Take a deep breath and let the red color drain from your face. Let reason return. THEN engage.

Just don’t hit me in the head. Because then all bets are off.