There are two types of people who never lose their cool – those that don't care about anything, and those that care about everything.

If nothing really matters to you, then of course there is nothing to get upset about. So what if somebody smashed up your car, or lied to your boss, or blamed you for his mistake? So what if you need two root canals? What difference does it really make? Nothing really matters.

Even material or personal losses become lessons in empathy

Then there is Jennie. She's a woman of principles. She cares about people. She takes pride in a job well done. She looks at every moment as an opportunity to grow and learn. She is confident that she is constantly being sent lessons through her daily challenges. She cares enough to give trying situations the clear thought they deserve. Her actions and reactions are guided by her vision. Her boat doesn't capsize with every wave.

Knowing that she is a person of principle, if someone speaks ill of her, she is able to step back and assess the situation. "What are they saying? Did I do something wrong? If so, what must I do to fix the situation?" Maybe she didn't do anything wrong; in that case she doesn't need to be upset by the other's words, and can just dismiss them as someone else's problem. Even material or personal losses become lessons in empathy for Jennie, or allow her to value herself as a person not dependant on possessions for personal worth. Either way, Jennie's cool.

Let's look at Bob, Jennie's polar opposite. Someone scrapes his car – he flies off the handle. His side of the argument is not accepted? He resorts to nasty epithets. Joe doesn't like him? He goes home and yells at his wife, kid or dog. His reactions are inappropriate because his internal reality overrides his external reality. He cares about some things, not everything, not nothing. He cares about his car, but he doesn't care about the other person involved. He cares about winning the argument more than dealing with a disagreement in a respectful way. He cares about his wounded ego, but not how the wounds will affect others if he passes them on. His principles are out of whack.

Most of us are neither Jennie nor Bob. We are all somewhere along the continuum between unflappability and excitability. Some things we can handle without sweat, while other situations will get us hot under the collar. I can handle a small monetary loss, but not one that threatens my ability to feed my kids. An insult from a stranger might be water off a duck's back, but an insult from my boss or husband might keep me up at night. I don't think anyone is emotionally transparent; our personality and experiences color the way we function to a greater or lesser degree. It seems to me that what we should strive for is emotional translucence.

Ideally, our reactions and emotions are pure, simple and straight forward. No emotional baggage or insecurities ride on them, clouding our objectivity. Emotional translucency means that while every action may cause an equal and opposite reaction, it doesn't cause an overreaction.

Can I stretch the parameters of what I can deal with without losing my cool?The difference between a situation that will unhinge me and one that won't comes down to a very simple equation. If I have what it takes to handle a situation then I handle it. If I feel that I don't have what it takes to handle what life is doling out, I feel threatened and I freak out. Simple!

Is there another way? Can I stretch the parameters of what I can deal with without losing my cool? It would seem that two main factors determine a person's coping strength in challenging situations. The first is principles; the second is trust in G‑d. Twelve-step programs are systems through which addicts can strengthen these two factors, so that situations that would previously baffle them and send them running to their addictions are handled with much more emotional translucency.

If my decisions and actions are based on principles that I believe in, I am not afraid to be held accountable for their results. In a twelve-step program this is done by taking a personal accounting. What has motivated my actions in the past? Is that a valid way to live? Aligning one's actions with one's ideals phases out guilt. Guilt tells us that we're not okay, and therefore don't have what it takes to smoothly handle any situation. Guilt and self-recrimination often bump us over the line between reacting and overacting.

This brings us to the next factor. Believing in myself and believing in G‑d's belief in me often amount to the same thing. There are some areas where I know that I am competent. There are other areas where I know that I am not. When I am presented with a challenging situation, and I believe that G‑d believes that I can handle it without losing my emotional balance, I am much more likely to succeed.

G‑d can handle any problem This idea has transformed my life. As a born-and-bred perfectionist, little failures felt as though they compromised my right to exist. As I have been learning and striving to grow in emotional translucency, I tell myself that my existence – as well as my challenging situation – were G‑d's ideas, not mine. As long as I do my best according to what I believe is right, I can trust that things will turn out okay. If not, it's no longer my problem, and G‑d can handle any problem! There is a cute poster I have seen around that reads: "Don't tell G‑d how big your problems are, tell your problems how big G‑d is."

This goes a long way at work, with family interactions, and with personal issues. The sages teach us in the Ethics of our Fathers, "It is not upon you to finish the job, but you aren't free to ignore it," (2:21). If I have the inner peace that comes from knowing that this world is a school, and not an exhibition center for finished products, then I can trust that the tests I am being given are suited to me at my level of understanding and development, and are designed to move me at least a tiny increment forward. This knowledge creates confidence, and the confidence creates competence, and allows me to flow and function lucidly and accomplish much more.