One of the very first things I learned in kindergarten was to put my fingers up one by one and say numbers out loud. Later on, I stopped counting out loud, but I still continued to use the method to solve math problems. I never thought counting had any other uses, but my mother told me her secret of counting often enough that it’s always on top of my head like my favorite song.
Every time I wanted to explode with anger, my mother told me: “count one to one hundred slowly. After one hundred if you are still angry, keep counting until one thousand. Then you can express your irritation, if you still want to.” At first, I didn’t believe her little secret would work. I didn’t think counting numbers would help me stop my anger until I started to use her secret and prove that it worked.
One Saturday night, both of my parents were out seeing their clients. I wanted to go online, but I couldn’t because my brother had been using the internet, which was the only one in my house. Since noon, my brother had played an online game. I asked him to stop, but he said “no!” I offered him candy, but he rejected my offer. Since nice compromises didn’t seem to work, I took his phone from his shirt pocket and asked him one last time to stop using the internet or I would throw his phone away. Still, I heard his fingers pressing the keyboard. I screamed at him because the anger took control over me.
Before anything got worse, my mother called my brother’s phone which was in my hand. I walked outside as she asked, “Is everything alright there?” I didn’t want her to be worried so I replied, “Of course.” When I was done talking to her, I thought of her secret of counting. I closed my eyes and started to count. I slowly continued to count as I focused on my breathing more as if I had been meditating. Soon, I could no longer hear the noise of the keyboard. I could only hear the air coming in and out of my nose. Inside, a question of how to deal with my brother resonated in my reflection. Finally, I realized I didn’t need to use the internet. Moreover, I was an older sister so I needed to be the one giving up the internet. Thus I gave the phone back to my brother and went to watch a movie.
On that day, I discovered that my mother’s secret of counting worked. A small beginning like counting can lead to big outcomes like being able to calm myself and to think about how to deal with a situation I face. When I list numbers one by one, I can think more about consequences of any decision and care more about the effect of my anger on others rather than focusing on how to express my anger. Since then, I’ve believed in a power of counting.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.