Anger and Performance

Sam Obitz / February 21st, 2013 / No Comments »

Do you perform better or worse when you are angry? For many people, what they do for a living will color their answer to this question. Very few surgeons are likely to say that anger helps them perform their operations better. In fact, they are generally quick to point out that their judgment gets clouded when they are feeling angry about something.

On the other hand, I have had multiple athletes inform me that they are at their best when they are angry. Many of them have gone on to tell me stories about a perceived slight or injustice that happened to them during competition that spurred them on to some of their best performances.

I believe that anger itself is never productive, and therefore, it is not conducive to peak performance. Anger comes out of frustration and unmet expectations. Now, regardless of your field of work, ask yourself if you can remember a time when you performed at your peak while you were in the midst of feeling frustration? I have yet to run across anyone who remembered a time this was true for them. American writer Ambrose Bierce summed it up nicely when he said, “Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret.”

People often talk about the need to express their anger to get it out of their system, but when you vent your anger by shouting at someone or using physical violence, you are in fact feeding the anger and making it stronger in you. That’s why I laugh when people tell me that their therapist taught them to deal with their anger by hitting a pillow when they are upset. They mistakenly believe they are getting relief from this strategy, but in actuality they just eventually tire out, and the feeling of being tired overtakes the feeling of anger* (it also creates a maladaptive habit).

As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “For every minute you remain angry, you give up sixty seconds of peace of mind.” I often hear people say how someone or something made them mad or angry, but mad and angry are choices within our control. We may not be able to control events, or what other people say or do to us, but we have total control in how we react to all those things. So in effect, we are the only person who can make ourselves angry.

There’s a very profound Buddhist saying: “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.” If you let your anger get the best of you, it tends to bring out the worst in you. As boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. pointed out about his sport: “If you fight angry, you make a lot of mistakes, and when you fight a sharp, witty fighter like me, you can’t make mistakes.” When boxers make mistakes, they get punched in the face or knocked out.

So why, you ask, do so many athletes tell stories about how their anger fueled them to some of their best performances? It’s simply because people are convinced they know what got them to where they are, when the fact of the matter is that they created the reasons they are sharing with you, after the fact. The way our brain works is that it comes up with explanations that justify conclusions, not the other way around. Often what they attribute for their success was more coincidence, than cause and effect.

Most likely in reality, what fueled those great performances was not the anger they associated it with, but a more determined focus on their purpose that was awakened once they got over the feeling of being angry. In short, their anger shook them up enough to get them out of their head, thus out of their own way, which allowed them to perform at their best.

Make sure you control your anger or it will control you… And if it controls you, you will not be satisfied with the results it produces.


You can follow Sam on Twitter @SuperTaoInc


*= Please note that I am not advocating that you hold your anger in (this leads to depression), but rather that you learn more adaptive ways of processing events that act as a prophylactic against anger.


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