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Want to Change? Get Angry!

How to use your anger to achieve your goals.

This is the time of year that people declare what they want to change in their lives. Unfortunately the real-time decisions you make will likely be based on emotion and will supersede those you logically made on New Years. When the time comes to make the change, your emotions will trick you into finding a great rationalization for ignoring your stated intention.

The good news is you can counteract this process with emotional awareness. You have to recognize what you are feeling in the moment and then make a conscious shift to feel something else.

First you need to recognize if you are feeling discomfort, boredom, confusion, fear or worry when you consider making the change. Then you need to shift to a stronger emotion that will allow you to step through the pain and take the steps toward change.

In other words, 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.

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 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.

This is often difficult for my female clients. They have been brought up to believe that expressing anger is bad. They cringe and get small in the presence of angry people. Or if they do express anger, it tends to be a knee-jerk reaction to someone's perceived disrespect. The don't channel their anger to a productive end.

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.

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.

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 (evoking anger) to what you want to passionately and positively create (inspiring passion). Determine what you want to end and then make the shift from a negative to a positive expression of want you deeply desire to create.

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?
* What have I had enough of and needs to end today?
* 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.