Moderation Q4

Ben Franklin’s 13 Virtues: Week 9, Q4

Moderation: “Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.

Personal notes:

  • Moderate actions;
  • Moderate emotions;
  • Moderate when at your worst (tired, exhausted, hungover).

I snap at family — not strangers, not associates — but family. I used to wonder why, why the people I love? Then I realized I bottle anger and spill it at home. It’s easy to spill at home because it’s the ultimate safe space, where I’m comfortable and shielded from the world. It’s a mistake.

Moderation has been a focus of mine this past year. I’ve gotten better, but still have triggers. My ultimate trigger is my kids. They can bring out the best, and the worst in me. When it’s the worst, I try to take note. Here is that list.

  1. Electronics: I’m consistently amazed at how much worse my reactions are when using electronics. It is digital heroin. Yesterday morning I sipped tea while reading the news on my phone. My 2 year old came over for a hug, and spilled tea all over me — I lost it. When situations are unduly escalated, electronics are involved.
  2. Alcohol: I’ve significantly tempered back alcohol for a variety of reasons, but the main one is family. Hungover with children is the worst — I am also at my worst. My temper becomes extremely short and extra surly. I’ve seen fear in my daughter’s eyes. Had to cut this one down.
  3. Sleep: Young children are exhausting. Sometimes that exhaustion can lead to anger. Coffee is necessary, and TV can be a friend. I’ve learned to enjoy My Little Ponies.
  4. Hunger: Not so much me, but my wife and daughters are bears if they are hungry. Feed the bears.
  5. Exercise: I feel like shit if I don’t work out, and that makes me miserable. I’ve enjoyed martial arts — if you need to get rid of some anger, it’s best to take it out on angry, bearded men.
  6. Direction: Whether you call it direction, passion, or purpose. It’s a big one, it quiets all the inner voices swirling about. This year gave me direction, and it was the surest way to moderate my action. Sitting for hours writing at my desk quieted voices in a way that sitting at a desk for hours reading financial statements seemed to exacerbate them. It was an important, and unintended discovery. If you haven’t found it, it’s certainly worth the investment (a year or more) to find.


Next Week

Ben Franklin’s 13 Virtues: Week 10, Q4

Cleanliness: “Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, clothes or location.

Personal notes:

  • I feel terrible when frumpy, dirty or disheveled;
  • Clutter drives me crazy;
  • Pine needles are everywhere!

I haven’t showered yet, and feel gross. Time to get clean.

Moderation Q3

Ben Franklin’s 13 Virtues: Week 9, Q3

Moderation: “Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.

Personal notes:

  • Practice Moderation of action;
  • Moderate emotional response (especially at 630pm with the kids);
  • Incorporate Moderation into this week’s conduct.

Physically, I feel some pain in the knees and shoulders but not as much as years past. The joints are stiff and sore, but a more moderate exercise routine has had its benefits. A moderate diet has had its benefits too. No fasting, no lemon juice and cayenne, just smaller portions and more greens. Five pounds disappeared quickly, as did my sour stomach.

My stomach rules all, not my heart. Yes, stress or anxiety wreak havoc on most intestines, but mine felt ill on normal days. I began to think I had become lactose intolerant or developed some digestive sickness. I worried, until I didn’t.

After nearly a year of writing each week, and practicing awareness and reflection, I feel renewed. A calmness has materialized, a guilt and sadness washed away. All is not perfect and mistakes are still made (often), but most is better. If I had to choose the engine of change, I would choose moderation.

My stomach has been cured; it wasn’t gluten or dairy, but life. We’ve changed our life over the past year and moderated everything. We live smaller and save more. Our home is smaller, our plates are smaller, and our problems became smaller too.


Next Week

Ben Franklin’s 13 Virtues: Week 10, Q3

Cleanliness: “Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, clothes or location.

Personal notes:

  • I feel worse when unclean;
  • Clutter leads to frustration;
  • Cleanliness calms the mind.

Sometimes, the hardest thing is taking the first step. The pile grows until it becomes a burden. Force that first step.

Hope you enjoyed the holiday weekend,


Moderation Q2

Ben Franklin’s 13 Virtues: Week 9, Q2

Moderation: “Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.

Personal notes:

  • Avoid confusing with Temperance (food/drink); Moderation concerns more with emotions and personal interactions.
  • Avoid flying off the handle, and when you do, be sure to sit down and mull it over.
  • Tie it to last week’s observations.

Last week I was pretty fired up at my dad (in all honesty, I was seething) but took time to work through the emotions, determine a course of action, and, thankfully, calm down – the Bens13 framework worked! But in all honesty, I failed to moderate my emotional reaction. In fact, I’d say my emotions trapped me. Once fury sprung, I was stuck in the whirlpool for hours, spinning deeper and deeper into the abyss. Fortunately, I did not act and did not injure my father.

A few days later, when I found out why my dad didn’t want to talk, I felt bad for ever being angry. More than anything, he needed someone to talk to, and that realization made me think how often we confuse individual actions with personal insults; especially when we can interact without seeing, touching or listening to one another. Often there is no insult intended, just a lack of understanding or a missing piece of information lost amongst words typed on a screen.

Taking a step back was key. Putting everything down, turning off the cellphone, getting away from the noise, prevented me from injuring someone I love – you cannot fire off an ill-thought email if the computer is off. Maybe we all need more solitary reflection? Happy words masking a lie.

Some of these words are half-truths. Last week was great, and I’m trying to be positive, but I’m seething again on a Sunday night.“Forbear resenting injuries” is difficult. The saga of our previous apartment continues. Despite severing the relationship with our old landlords (last week), they refuse to go away. They are holding our security deposit hostage, and at this moment, I am having a very difficult time being moderate. Part of me believes there are those who take advantage of others, and moderation enables them when they do.

I guess this wasn’t meant to be easy. 


Ben Franklin’s 13 Virtues: Week Nine, Q1

Moderation: “Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.”

Personal notes:

  • I am a person of extremes; focus on control.
  • Sometimes I go 0 to 60. Pump breaks. No need to fly off into a rage or think dark thoughts.
  • Avoid hyper-criticism of those closest to you.
  • Master emotions.

I thought I was doing well this week. In fact, during one moment of foolishness I had a cheery idea, “there might not be much to write about,” but that proved to be wishful thinking. You see, I have kids, and as much as I love them, they are a relentless force; piling on requests, pleas, cries, and messes, until the weight of exhaustion crushes my resistance and destroys all notion of emotional control. 

This week the (first) moment of lost emotional control happened in the bathroom. Like most dads, I just needed a minute, and there’s no place better to catch up on world events than some quiet time on the throne. Halfway through a Wall Street Journal article on the Panama Papers, my 4 year old daughter kicked down the door SWAT style and blew up my momentary fortress of solitude. Now in this exposed position, my ability to physically respond was limited, so I resorted to a hard and angry bark “Get OUT!”

“But I just want to show you this picture I drew for mom.”

“Get out, NOW!” 

It’s hard to capture just how angry I was, the emotion electrified my entire core, my voice turned to a growl, and while it may be tough to capture this evocative anger here, one thing was for certain, the anger and annoyance was clearly audible to a four year old. She backed away, lip downturned, eyes at the floor, sad and upset that her dad was so angry. After all, all she wanted to do was share her exciting art, but all I wanted was a moment alone. She left and my victory was fleeting. The preceding moment of calm was gone, never to be recaptured, replaced by guilt, anger and sadness. Quite an emotional rollercoaster for a trip to the bathroom.

I’m always in awe of people who have seemingly mastered their emotions. As a history nerd, I think of the story of FDR who barely flinched when he learned the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor; here I am erupting over an interrupted bathroom visit. But we all have those moments, at least that’s what I tell myself, when we’re overwhelmed by the persistent force of life. Sometimes this wear forces us to snap at someone we love. I don’t hit my children but I’ve certainly clenched our child’s hand knowing it hurts, forcing her back in line, watching her eyes fill with fear. I know at that moment I’ve lost control again and my subtle grip is trying to hide my lashing out, not so much from the child. It’s shameful when I think about it.

But like I said in last week’s email, I wanted to think about triggers. Moments where Moderation escapes me and I loose emotional control.

  • Electronics: When I am interrupted on my phone or computer, there is a noticeable rise in anger that otherwise would not be present; and let me emphasize, it is very noticeable. Next time you get angry at your kids, or anyone for that matter, look at your hand and see if it’s clutching a phone or typing on a keyboard.
  • Exhaustion: If sleep the night before (or week before) was a poor, I am terrible and quick to spark. We’re currently in a trend where my daughter will not sleep in her room. In the beginning, with every night interrupted, I would be furious, and being furious in the middle of the night is one way to ensure the next morning sucks. It took a long time to allow her to sleep in a blow-up bed in our room. We essentially admitted defeat in order to win a victory.
  • Hitting: Somehow my kids are amazing at hitting me in the tenders. Always by accident, yet targeted perfectly: hits to the groin, eye, nose and any other sore appendage raises a deep rooted, mammalian anger. Often, I have to leave the room or I sit there seething in pain, calming the muscles waiting to respond, waiting for the moment to pass.
  • Screaming: There is something about high pitched screaming, particularly if it’s directed immediately in one’s ear, that creates a visceral response. When I was in the military, we spent a few evenings locked in a dog cage for survival training. It sounds bad but it didn’t bother me, until they started blasting the recording of children screaming for hours upon hours. There’s no quick fix here. Have to just realize it’s a trigger and walk away. 

There’s a million other examples that will do: trying to feed my child, only to have the food thrown on the floor; trying to change the child’s diaper while she squirms and spreads poop all over her hands. Like I said, children are relentless, but so is life. You don’t have to have kids to cause these triggers, just look at your day-to-day: a crowded commute, a particularly rude grown-up, a terrible driver, a relentless co-worker, all of them break down the notion of emotional control. You snap, you’re angry at everyone, your life is consumed by rage; what can you do about it?

I’ve come to realize you need to embrace a long-term project to re-wire your brain. For me, the list is long: I’ve put down the phones when my kids are around, work on a daily gratitude journal, found a physical outlet through martial arts, say to myself “maybe that driver is in a hurry because he has an emergency,” choose to not have an opinion, work on Bens13, and force myself to explore my triggers. These are just a few steps and I’ve come to realize I will not achieve emotional control over night, but I’m getting better.

I realize my child is at her purest stage in life and I have to do my best to encourage her and not let the weariness of adulthood punish her innocence. Clearly I’ve stumbled and had set backs but I’m getting better, and you can too. We just have to remember, we allow many of the events and people around us to define us. Why do that? Why let them make you angry? All I can say is, next time the cheerio crushes underfoot and the scintillating fire creeps up our neck, it’s just easier to grab the broom and move on. Allow the moment to pass.