Tue | Apr 23, 2019

Trevor E. S. Smith | How to stop the lid from blowing off

Published:Sunday | March 25, 2018 | 12:00 AM

It happens. The feelings of exasperation. The outburst (adult word for tantrum). Then the cooling down and relative calm.

Life is like a pressure cooker. Understanding how pressure cookers operate presents important lessons for our lives.

Pressure Cooker

A standard pressure cooker cooks food much faster than non-pressurised vessels. It applies the principle that water will be converted to steam and evaporate once it reaches boiling point. Trapping the steam increases the pressure in the vessel and the temperature of the water. When the desired temperature is reached, a valve mechanism is triggered to release steam and reduce the pressure in the vessel.


You will note the central role of steam in the process. By harnessing it, we get the benefit of a quickly cooked, tasty meal. By releasing it, we normalise and control the pressure inside the vessel.

Steam also plays a central role in our lives.

Sources of steam include disappointments, tight deadlines, fatigue, conflict, low self-esteem, envy, and unmet needs or desires.

The cut and thrust of our fast-paced living turns up the heat in our lives and produces even more steam.


The huge problem we face is that from a very early age, we are taught that "open vessel" living is not appropriate. "Open vessel" living as in cooking allows steam to escape. There is no excessive build-up of pressure in the vessel.

We discourage tantrums from tiny tots, which is their valve for letting off steam arising from an unmet desire. That is understandable. However, it is part of a process that encourages us to bottle up our steam and ends up creating personal pressure cookers.

Some of us have more secure lids than others. That is reflected in the level of internal pressure that we can withstand before the lid flies off.

We also produce different amounts of steam based on our mindset, training, and circumstances.

The Valve

The secret to reducing the outbursts and feelings of exasperation is the pressure-regulating valve. We need a safe mechanism for releasing steam so that the pressure does not build up to the point that it blows the lid off. For exasperation to cease, there must be a healthy means of release.

Life's pressure-regulating valve comes in many forms. Here are some:

Hope and optimism.

Steam is released when we accept the thought that things will get better. That "this too will pass". That the current woes and disappointment will soon be over. That the conflict will be resolved. That we will rise to meet whatever challenge is in front of us.

Mindset is an excellent pressure regulator and we need to invest more time and resources in coaching people across ages how to use the mind-set regulator more effectively. How we receive, process, internalise, or discard information needs to be taught with the same commitment with which we encourage the bottling up of pressure and emotions.


The steam-release mechanism in the pressure cooker is triggered when the pressure reaches a predetermined level. Similarly, we need to be sensitive to the build up of pressure in our lives and trigger our steam-release mechanisms.

If we could get people to the point where they are sensitive to rising pressure in their lives and be disciplined enough to initiate positive release actions, the scourge of violence will be significantly reduced.


The use of steam-release devices is helpful. Paying attention to your breathing or carrying out a breathing exercise is one highly effective device.

One exercise is to inhale to the count of 4. Hold your breath to the count of 8. Breathe out slowly to the count of 6. The actual numbers are not critical. The counting shifts your attention and the shift in your rate of breathing produces a change of bodily state that facilitates the release of pressure.

Another great device is a brisk walk outdoors. I am stunned at how many answers to problems I get from as little as a 30-minute walk. The exercise is a bonus.

Music is another of my favourite release valves. Old favourites bring back pleasant memories and prompt you to sing along, which produces yet another change of state.

Gardening, reading, memory verse, video, movie, surfing the 'Net, WhatsApp chat, and the list goes on of pressure-releasing devices that we can use.


'Conflict Avoidance And Management Personal Development Public Workshop' series continues this Sunday, March 25 at 6 p.m. at the St Andrew Church of Christ, 77 Red Hills Road. Facilitators: AndrÈ Allen-Casey and Trevor Smith. No charge.

The 'Breakthrough Boot Camp and Mentoring Programme' is now open for participation. Find answers to being ready to deal with challenges related to integrating millennials and warp-speed change while accessing a range of practical courses. http://successwithpeople.org/breakthroughleader

- Trevor E. S. Smith and the Success with People Academy team prepare and certify leadership professionals and coach/mentors and develop high performing teams. Hire smart with their recruitment solutions. Now enrolling for the next cohort of the ICF/SHRM-Accredited Certified Behavioural Coach programme. Email: info@swpacademy.com.