Calm Is My Superpower


Step 2 to the ignited life:  Breathe.

I was conducting the second session of a divorce mediation when the wife blurted out, “I don’t know why we’re here, we don’t need you!  A monkey could do your job!”  All sorts of comebacks popped into my mind, starting with a sarcastic “Gee, you are so kind, I can’t imagine why anyone would want to divorce you.”  But I knew that responding with my own mean words would only make things worse.  I also knew that she was, in truth, reacting from a place of deep pain.  I just happened to be in the line of fire in that moment.  Lashing out at me was a way to express her own frustration with a very difficult situation.  It was also a sub-conscious effort by her to distract the session away from some things she didn’t want to hear.  Insulting someone is a common way that people shift an emotional conversation away from the true problem to something that isn’t their responsibility to fix – who hasn’t defended themselves for being late by blaming “traffic” instead of admitting their own failure to value the other person’s time?

The key point here is that getting upset, yelling, threatening and calling names are all ways we exhaust ourselves, depleting our energy and setting ourselves up for getting more and more cranky, tired and upset.  Whether we are upset with our spouse, our kids or an unhelpful customer service person on the phone – we only further drain ourselves when we expend our personal energy by reacting in anger.  I’m not suggesting that you should never get upset, only that if you are looking to increase your energy, a good place to find more mojo is to limit how many times a week (or a day, for some of us, okay – for me) we expend our energy on the negative behavior of someone else.  Chances are, responding to a difficult situation with anger won’t make it better and is likely to take more energy out of us than we get back from the result.

But knowing this is only useful if you know how to prevent that anger and frustration from boiling to the surface.  Personally, once mine has gotten to the boiling point, it’s too late.  My strategy has to be in place in advance and the first action step is my breath.  I use deep, calming breaths to trick my body into relaxing.  Research shows that by consciously mimicking the kind of breathing that we do when we are relaxed, we can create relaxation in the body.

Before I conduct a mediation session (or go into my kid’s bedroom when she is not up and we have to leave for school in 10 minutes) I practice what is often called “ocean breathing” for at least 5 breaths.  Ocean breathing gets its name from the fact that you can hear the breath coming in and out, like waves at the shore.  Breath in through the nose, drawing your breath from the back of the throat, and then out through the mouth, exhaling hard enough so you can hear it.  I also use a count (4, 3, 2, 1) for both the breath intake and exhalation so that I am breathing evenly and rhythmically.

Ocean breathing is a coping strategy to help you find your calm in emotionally triggering situations.  To be clear, I am not suggesting you should repress your feelings and hold in anger.  I AM suggesting that if an angry response from you will not improve the situation FOR YOU, avoid exhausting yourself by choosing not to attach your own emotions to someone else’s problem BEFORE you participate in a situation where you might otherwise become angry.  If the parties in my mediation need to vent, and they often do, I don’t need to let that negatively impact me.  If my kid doesn’t make it to school on time, the consequences are hers and not mine.  If the customer service representative can’t fix a problem, I don’t have to get angry to get the result I want.

Deep, calming breath is a strategy you can practice to save your energy for the good things you want to do.  It is also deeply empowering.  In the mediation session where I was insulted, if I had responded with something snarky, all my credibility would be lost and the wife would have successfully distracted from the agenda of issues that I had planned.  By not engaging, I could re-direct back to MY agenda and ultimately we resolved all of their issues cooperatively.

Don’t let your energy be sucked dry by someone else’s problem.  Use your breath to find your calm and retain your energy for good stuff – like shoe shopping and wild, monkey sex.  I hope you’ll give it a try and share the results in the comments below (not the results of the wild, monkey sex – that would be icky).



  1. Esther Durán Lumm says:

    Great advice, as usual! Thank you so much for your wonderful insight. This advice helps in dealing with ANY situation!

  2. Ocean breathing also helped me give up the occasional Cigarette after college. For many, the joy in smoking comes from the inhaling and exhaling more than the nicotine.

Please share your thoughts.