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“Pick Yer Poison, Pardner!”

Sounds like a comment in an old western movie but it’s much more than that!

Do you let different people, events, or situations irritate you? Frustrate you? Do they sometimes create an “automatic” anger response? Do negative emotions rise to the surface so quickly that they just pop out in some way? You know, the finger, the expletive or curse, the yell, the angry outburst? The things that automatically raise our level of stress?

It happens to many of us, sometimes over the most frivolous things or sometimes over things we deem to be important to us. Does it happen to me? Absolutely! Even though I think (hope?) it is a lot less than in previous years or decades!! No one is immune to the influence of negative things in our lives.

Here are a few examples:

  • Someone driving slow in the fast lane and not pulling over.

  • A leader’s decisions that just don’t seem to make sense to us.

  • Being frustrated with a team member, supervisor, manager, or, sometimes, even someone close to us.

  • A favorite sports team that is in the bottom half, or dead last, in their league.

  • Unexpected and unexplained delays in customer service.

  • A person talking on their phone when they are in a meeting or movie theatre.

  • When the person at the checkout is returning multiple items or buying and checking lottery tickets on the spot

The list can be endless!

However, there at least three commonalities to many of these things:

  1. The person that we are frustrated with, or that sets us off, usually doesn’t even know we feel that way, or that anything is even wrong.

  2. We have little or no control over an annoying situation or event but we are not aware of that fact.

  3. We are usually totally unaware of things that we do that might irritate or frustrate others.


“Holding Onto Anger Is Like Drinking Poison and Expecting the Other Person to Die.” (Buddhist saying). You can also substitute “expecting the situation or event to change.”

When I first read that quote, it was a huge “aha!” What a great analogy for certain types of thinking that can cause us a tremendous amount of stress, which can show up as irritation, frustration, or anger.

Remember, there is a gap between every stimulus we receive and how we choose to respond. We have full control – total control – over this gap. No one else has the power over how we respond.

Six Steps

Want to change how you respond to these seemingly frivolous, irritating things in your life? Here are six steps you can take:

  1. Pause in the gap. This will give you time for #2 below.

  2. Look at some of the emotions below that are hidden beneath this potential response. Reflect on why you may be about to respond in a negative way, or why you are letting it bother you in the first place.

    1. Emotional attachment - when interpreted as an unhealthily tendency to cling to people, beliefs, habits, possessions and circumstances, and the refusal to let go and try new things.

    2. Aversion - a physiological or emotional response indicating dislike for a stimulus.

    3. Ignorance - a lack of knowledge, experience, or understanding.

    4. Pride - when it is interpreted as a high or inordinate opinion of one's own dignity, importance, merit, or superiority.

    5. Jealousy - unhappy and slightly angry because you wish you had someone else's qualities, advantages, or success.

  3. Check what you can control and what you can’t.

  4. Remember the quote from earlier in this newsletter. You know, the one that talks about poison!

  5. Let go of the stimuli that can create negative emotions and responses.

  6. Choose to make the type of response you feel will be more appropriate and desirable.

If you repeat these steps each time you encounter an annoyance, you can turn them into a strong, more natural habit of responding the way you prefer.

So . . . . what about “Pick your poison, pardner”? In the gap, it is our choice, and ours alone, on how we let seemingly annoying things bother us. We can continue to ‘pick the poison’ that doesn’t affect anyone or anything else. We can continue getting upset and angry, while we expect the other person to die, or the situation to change.

Or, we can choose “not to pick any poison”, and let go of the negative influences and reactions.

Hmm …. when I think of the poison analogy, the decision is much easier and makes my old reactions seem very silly, even trite. What about you?


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