“Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.”

This saying changed my life and has been my mantra since I discovered it about a year ago. 

But it hasn’t always been this way. 

I had always been hot-tempered. I didn’t give others the benefit of the doubt. Small things got me disproportionately worked up. 

Someone bumped into me and made me spill some tea? Ugh! Proceed to vigorously rant to a friend and continue to seethe for half an hour. 

Missed the train? Argh!! All thanks to those people blocking the way just now! Proceed to spend half the day feeling irritated and playing if-only scenarios in my head. 

You get the picture. 

How I learned to let it go

The saying I introduced earlier originated from the Buddha (I’m not a Buddhist), but you don’t have to be a Buddhist to benefit from its wisdom.

It’s a clever analogy — perfect because of the graphic imagery it employs. 

Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned. — Buddha

When I first heard it (I came across it in a movie) I immediately pictured myself holding a burning coal in my hand, and thought how silly it is to expect NOT to be hurt by that — doesn’t matter that I’m actually trying to throw it at someone else.

It’s a handy image to store in my mind — a reminder I can retrieve and put to work in a snap.

In the spur of the moment, when I feel my chest tightening and anger bubbling up, I summon this image: a generic piece of burning coal in my hand, red-hot and angry. 

I ask myself: What do you get by staying angry? Does your anger change the situation? Who is suffering, if you continue being angry? Does the other person care? Does it even affect them?

I take a deep breath, breathe out slowly… and I let it go. 

At this instant, I can almost physically feel the calm coming over me — like a comfortable breeze. 

You get better at it

It’s hard, initially. 

It took a lot of practice, but gradually I could let go of these unnecessary anger and negativity more and more quickly. 

Over the course of the year, I grew to recognize such situations early, too.

When I feel the familiar anger surfacing, it’s become almost an instinct to take a deep breath and let it go — usually. 

There are bad days, of course. 

Occasionally, I still slip back into my old habits. I don’t catch myself in time and blow up at my kids sometimes. I get offended by others and carry out angry imaginary conversations in my head for too long.

But overall, this new habit has given me a new-found peace.

Changes for the better

I am no longer trapped in a cycle of bitterness. I stopped wasting time being angry at others. I’ve avoided unnecessary clashes with loved ones. 

I started to have a new spring in my steps, a new lightness in my soul. I’m more optimistic. There is more joy in my life and I have more capacity to work on my business and spend time with my kids. I’m more productive and happier overall. 

Though far from the even-headed, peaceful person I aspire to be, I know I’ve improved leaps and bounds.

Sharing is caring

I know there are others who struggle with the same issue. 

Sometimes, I see the same festering anger in my 6-year-old daughter, and I want her to see the pointlessness of staying angry sooner rather than later, so she doesn’t spend much of her young life feeling angry like I did.

I have discussed this saying with her, and I want to share it with you, too.