About to Unleash a Comment You Might Regret? Do This First.
The ‘one plus 24’ rule prevents you from responding out of raw anger
Scrolling through Facebook recently, I came across a breathtakingly stupid post by an old high school acquaintance: Most of us probably won’t die from the coronavirus, he wrote, so we should stop making a big deal about it.
I stretched my fingers across the keyboard to unleash an assault at the insensitivity of his comment — How is giving a shit about other people so difficult? — when I remembered the rule I gave myself for times I am about to say something I might regret.
“One plus 24,” I told myself.
And then I shut my laptop.
Between the pandemic, political unrest, the ongoing fight for racial justice, and fear that seems endless, it’s an understatement to say that tensions are high right now. And it can feel good — great, even — to spew what’s on your mind without stopping to think it through. But a response of pure, raw anger is rarely the most effective one. As a person who’s easily set off — by rejection, by ordinary criticism, by dumb comments on the internet — I’ve entered a cycle of speaking out of impulse and then dwelling on my words after my mind has settled down. How did I get so worked up over that? Why did I say those things? Why couldn’t I have just ignored them?
“One-plus-24” is a strategy that helps me respond rationally, not emotionally. It’s not a science-based formula, just a twist on a classic deescalation tool. Here’s how it works.
Write one angry letter. But don’t send it.
Years ago, I read a story about how Benjamin Franklin wrote an angry letter to a friend of his in the British Parliament, but instead of sending it, he stuffed it into a drawer. The simple act of writing what he wished to say satisfied his urge to unload a tirade of venom. (Several other notable historical figures have also famously made use of the angry unsent letter, including Abraham Lincoln and Mark Twain.)
Try it yourself. Whenever someone says or does something that triggers you, take a deep breath and pull out a pen and piece of paper. From my own experience, the act of ripping up your letter allows the tension to dissipate further. It’s a symbolic act of telling yourself that the thing no longer bothers you.
Now wait for 24 hours to pass before you take any other action.
Here’s a cautionary tale about lashing out in the heat of the moment. In the 10th grade, my girlfriend and I would write love notes to each other every morning — just a sentence or two — and slip them through each other’s lockers. But one morning, I opened my note and saw that her note took up half the page. This was a breakup letter.
Hurt, angry, embarrassed, I slammed my locker shut. Then I did something I’m ashamed of to this day: I immediately made up a lie about her and told anyone willing to listen. By the next morning, guilt had taken hold. I spent that day trying to undo the damage, but it was too late. I could have stopped myself from doing something terrible if I had just waited 24 hours for the fury to dissipate. It’s certainly not my most recent example of this lesson, but it remains one of the most potent in my mind.
Strong emotions require energy to sustain themselves. Think of it as a fire in your mind: To keep the flame going, you need to add kindling and wood. If you deprive it of additional fuel, the fire eventually dies.
Of course, following the “one plus 24” rule isn’t always an option — there will be times when you need to respond to something ASAP, when you’ll need to rely on willpower instead of time to help you keep your cool.
But if you do have the luxury of time, use it. After writing your angry letter, wait a day, maybe two. This is the most difficult part, but as time passes, the urgency to respond will seem less critical. Plus, if you’re embroiled in an argument, this move leaves the other person hanging. When someone tries to set you off, they want you to respond. It’s the hostility that fuels them. Silence deprives them of fuel, and it’s the one response you’ll never regret.
If you’ve waited 24 hours and still feel you must say something, you can now do so with your rational mind crafting the retort. You’ll respond with grace — that is, if you decide it’s even worth responding at all. Sometimes, you say the most by simply stepping away.