Spiritual work like meditation and mindfulness helps us in myriad ways. We do better at our jobs because of improved focus. Ditto for our golf and tennis games. We’re more attentive and in tune with our loved ones because of strengthened presence.

There’s another area that doesn’t get talked about as much, which is dealing with anger and upset. Anger and upset can impact our lives significantly, depending on how we deal with it.

How significantly? Respond by exploding in a situation might result in divorce. Respond in another way and you might deepen your relationship. Significant, indeed.

Which leads to the age-old question: How do we stay calm and not lose it when we get triggered? I’ve received numerous comments over the years from readers saying some version of,

“I agree with what you’re saying about responding and not reacting, but I lose it in less than a second and then it’s all over. The damage is done.”

I’ll bet many of you feel the same way. I do, too, in certain situations.

The fuse analogy

I recently thought of an analogy that clarifies this process. It’s about lengthening the fuse.

When we get triggered, that is the equivalent of someone or some situation lighting our fuse. What types of triggers?

– You’re going to bed and your husband asks if you want him to set the alarm for 5 a.m. so you can get up to workout. World War III ensues when you scream at him because you think he’s indirectly criticizing your weight. (This happened to a friend of mine…the husband.)

– Your thirteen-year-old daughter pulls your seven-year-old daughter’s hair because she’s bothering her, sending the seven year old into a sea of tears. (One of my kids hurting their sibling is one of my anger triggers.)

– Someone cuts you off in traffic, causing you to tamp your brakes.

Continuing with the analogy, someone lights your fuse — the husband, my older daughter, the wayward driver. Most of the time, for most people, the fuse that has been lit is 1/8 of an inch.

Which translates as…


The explosion happens before we have any chance of preventing it. Stating the obvious, what we want to do is lengthen our fuse.

See if we can make it five inches. Then we can use those precious few seconds to wet our fingers and put out the flaming fuse, AKA calm down and respond from a place of reasoned presence.

My bawling daughter

This happened to me a few days ago with my seven-year-old daughter. I was cruising along on an article I was trying to finish and in she burst to my office, bawling her eyes out.

“Mommy said she would make me breakfast and she didn’t! I’m so hungry!”

Turns out my wife had left the house, forgetting that she’d said she was going to make Vi breakfast.

My two triggers

Two potential triggers registered in that one second. First, my daughter was sobbing; and that is one thing in life that drives me nuts. Not if it comes from falling down and getting a boo-boo or things like that. But garden variety “Waa waa!” stemming from basic complaining makes me lose it.

The second trigger was the combo of losing my writing mojo because my wife forgot to make our kid breakfast. The kettle was coming to a boil.

And then…

I caught it. The fuse was pretty long on this one. I very quickly surmised,

“The only way out of this is to get your butt up right now and make her breakfast. Don’t even think about it. Just do it.”

And that’s what I did. Disaster/eruption averted. Toasted everything bagel with cream cheese and a bowl of blueberries coming right up.

But how did I do it?

Now if I’m you, I want to know: How was I able to stave off the explosion? What did I do differently this time?

Which brings us to the nub of this article. Here are the two things we can do to get better at the whole ‘don’t blow up in the first few seconds so we can respond with reasoned presence’ thing.

Two things that lengthen the fuse

First, I do think practice helps. That means setting an intention to TRY and catch ourselves when we’re triggered, then stay calm and respond. I think that was partly responsible for my not losing it the other day over ‘Breakfast Gate.’

But there’s another, more prominent ingredient for success here. Which is the plain old, gradual, chopping wood and carrying water of spiritual work. In other words, I think that my many years of meditation and mindfulness are most responsible for my lengthened fuse a few days ago.

The takeaway

So if you want to lengthen your fuse, and thereby save yourself oodles of heartache, agony and bad vibes, set the intention to practice.

But more important, keep doing your regular practices. Whatever helps you to let go of your ego and quiet down inside, do it. For me, that’s meditation and mindfulness.

A lengthened fuse is one of the priceless gifts you’ll receive for putting in the work.