When it comes to personal development, both positive and negative emotions play a role your success. You probably have a desire to feel something more, whether it is more passion, contentment, joy, pride, or the peace of mind that comes with better understanding yourself.
Yet you probably won’t change anything substantial unless you have a deep desire to decrease stress, regrets, anxiety, sadness, or an unclear longing in your gut.
The intensity of your desire to change, whether based on a positive or negative emotion, correlates to the likelihood you will complete the process. You have to want the change badly enough to overcome the discomfort, boredom, confusion, embarrassment, and worry that pops up to stop you along the way.
You must allow yourself to feel a strong emotion, with anger being one of your strongest motivators, before you fully commit to making a complex change in your self-concept and behavior. An intense negative reaction to your circumstances revs up your internal motor more powerfully than a lightly held wish. Through extensive research, Jennifer Lerner and her team at the Harvard Decision Science Laboratory found that anger both encourages people to believe they can control their future and then motivates them to take risks.
Many times I have asked a client, “Are you finally mad enough at yourself for allowing this to happen again?” The question focuses the anger on their own avoidance mechanisms, disarming the blocks they had for changing. When you adamantly say, “Enough,” you may be angry about your circumstances but probably you are just as angry at yourself for standing in the mud with two good feet.
The skill is to shift the focus of your anger away from external circumstances to instead focus on what you strongly desire to change within yourself. It is not your flaky boss or overwhelming responsibilities that make you scream at strangers while you drive. You should be angry that it has taken so long for you to realize that you have the power to change your circumstances. If you use your anger to initiate the positive shifts you need to change your life. You must shift internally before you can change your external reality. Anger can be a great mobilizer of positive action.
However, sustained anger can be destructive physically in your body and externally in the world around you. Anger, frustration, stress, and the other negative emotions that trigger the brain to release adrenaline and cortisol will over time wear out your body by causing high blood pressure, heart disease, ulcers, hormonal imbalances, a weakened immune system, and a host of digestive problems.¹
Also, anger can eventually drive away the result you want. You can drive people away with your anger, people who could help you achieve your goals. Brain researchers are substantiating the effect of one person feeling irate or vengeful on others in the vicinity, whether the angry person displays or suppresses these emotions.² Even if you don’t direct your emotions at others, the measurable energy your emotions emit repels people, counteracting your desire to connect with people in a new, more positive way.
Therefore, once you commit to your transformation journey, you should shift your focus away from what is missing in your life to what you want to passionately and positively create. Determine what you want to end and then make the shift from a negative to a positive expression of your passion.
You still need powerful emotions to sustain the process. Adamantly wanting something to end is a good way to kickstart the transformation process. Yet once you are off and running, you need a positive obsession to sustain your efforts.
Ask yourself how badly you want what you deserve and what you are capable of creating:
- What do I want more of in my life?
- If I didn’t need to make money, how would I spend my time?
- How can I shift my frustration to what I dearly want to create?
Put your emotions in service of what you desire. Get angry! Then employ positive, powerful emotions to help you survive your journey.
¹Sapolsky, R. Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers: An Updated Guide to Stress, Stress-Related Diseases and Coping (New York: W. H. Freeman, 1998) p. 308.
²Childre, D. & Marti, H. The HeartMath Solution (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2000) pp. 33–34.
Article adapted from Wander Woman: How High-Achieving Women Find Contentment and Direction (San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler: 2010) pp. 140-142.