How to Cope when Feeling Ambushed by Problems.: Go berserk and you will perform the best act you will ever regret

John Cousins
February 7, 2023
5 min read
Photo by sebastiaan stam on Unsplash

I was recently asked the following question,

What is one piece of advice you would give to a room full of people? (and one time in your own life that you had difficulty implementing that advice).

My advice would boil down to the following assertion:

Going berserk rarely makes any situation better.

The best way to address problems is with calm, poise, and grace. Throwing a tantrum is not productive. If time is of the essence, a hissy fit can be very costly.

Exercising restraint is like an insurance policy against over reacting and saying, or doing, something you later come to regret. You can’t unring a bell or put the toothpaste back in the tube. Say something in anger and you will make the best speech you will ever regret.

Very few go astray who comport themselves with restraint.


Going ape shit never solves anything and usually makes a lousy situation worse. How do we inoculate ourselves against the possibility of a meltdown? Be prepared. Acknowledge that surprise problems lie in wait and will spring upon us. Be prepared to recognize the situation, give yourself some emotional distance, and deal creatively with solving it like a puzzle.

How best to deal when feeling ambushed by problems?

Anticipate that problems are going to arise. We don’t know what they will be exactly, but we know we are going to encounter problems, accidents, and obstacles. They will come at what we think is the most inconvenient time: when we are running late, or when we don’t have the extra money to address it, when we are exhausted, or when our bandwidth is tapped out.

When it strikes, we will feel ambushed and frustrated with this one more thing to derail us from our objectives and mission. Cognitive overload is precisely the situation for us to prepare for and recognize. Being ambushed by a problem is the opportunity to practice grace under pressure and poise in confronting frustration.

Our problems are very rarely intractable. Always embedded in the problem is the solution. A problem is a solution wrongly considered, and a solution is a problem rightly considered.

Go to the balcony

Pretend you are going to the balcony to take five. Take a deep breath, quiet the negative chatter in your mind, and brainstorm creative solutions and workarounds. Embrace the suck. Welcome the challenge.

Use this practice to engage with the daily defects we encounter. Build up your coping muscle and the confidence to address the more significant issues that are bound to come our way.

This path provides the opportunity to enter the virtuous cycle of struggle, followed by progress, followed by confidence to try something even harder. In this way, we can learn to welcome the challenge.

Don’t harsh your mellow

This practice is a practical philosophy that will reduce stress and make your life run smoother. It will also let you be a role model for others as they see how you confront and address less than optimal situations. Modeling is an iron law of leadership.

It is also good parenting. Children model behavior. Kids have never been good at listening to their parents, but they never fail to imitate them.

Anger constricts our vision. Playfully applying imagination opens us to possibilities.

It allows you to act like a beacon of light that can help others re-evaluate how they deal with the world. Actions are better than words. A lighthouse doesn’t run around trying to save ships; it just stands there shining and being exemplary works.

Few situations — no matter how greatly they appear to demand it — can be bettered by us going berserk.

- Melody Beattie

I try to be aware that superficial trials and tribulations are bound to happen in life. My goal is to understand that it is not a question of “if” but of “when” something will go not as I have planned. It can be a flat tire or bumping my head, or my computer is going on the fritz.

When it happens, instead of acting like it’s a big surprise that derails my plans, I should say, “Oh, this is the thing I have anticipated.” And then calmly try to address the situation. I always think best when I am calm and can creatively create and evaluate options.

Being prepared to deal with problems by anticipating them sounds good. It is rational and a best practice in theory. But in practice, when a surprise setback ambushes me, I am vulnerable to erupting even though I am acutely aware that overreacting is seldom attractive and rarely productive.

I was driving along the freeway a while back. I was tired and on my way home. Suddenly my car started making grinding noises. I pulled over on the shoulder and, on inspection, found that my front wheel well plastic had come loose and jammed against the wheel.

After hopping around swearing and cursing my bad fortune, my wife bent down and pulled on the broken piece. I ended up pulling it out, and we drove home. It was a simple remedy. I had preferred creative cursing and shouting and stomping around to calmly addressing the task at hand.

It disturbs me that a small event can trigger me and send me off like a volcanic eruption spewing forth profanity. It is not a proportional response. I know better. Between knowing and doing falls the shadow.

I don’t think that my foul mantra is going to solve the problem or task in front of me. And it certainly doesn’t make me look capable or in control, for, in fact, I am not. I am like Orlando Furioso, destroying stuff in my path as I express my frustration, anger, and rage.

I haven’t forgotten that moment, and I have vowed to do my very best not to repeat it. The older I get, the better at dealing I have become. But I know deep down I am still capable of throwing a tantrum at some seemingly trivial entropy.

Aristotle famously said:

Anybody can become angry — that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way — that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.

It is essential to control our temper and anger. You can’t un-ring a bell and words said in anger will hurt.

Ambrose Bierce said, “Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret.”

All I can do is my best to be aware and disciplined. I am grateful to Melody Beattie for pointing out to me the apparent futility of my eruptions. Instead of waiting until I have exhausted myself in rage before addressing a situation, I will try to skip that step and get right down to constructive, creative problem-solving.

And when I come up short, I will redouble my efforts. I won’t let temporary setbacks become permanent excuses. That is my pledge to myself and to those around me that have to endure my poor behavior.

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John Cousins
Author, Entrepreneur, & Teacher

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