Positive psychology is all the rage at the moment and the Internet is filled with advice for entrepreneurs on how to be more mindful, improve your mood, and feel more calm and centered. In a hectic world, this interest in boosting positive emotions makes a ton of sense. But according to the authors of a new book entitled The Upside of Your Darkside, good vibes (pleasant and important as they are) are only half the story.
To be successful and fulfilled you need to embrace not only your nicer and more cheerful emotions, they insist, but also accept and learn to work constructively with your darker ones. Take anger, for example, In a recent article for UC Berkeley's Greater Good Science Center, authors Todd Kashdan and Robert Biswas-Diener explain that "research overwhelmingly indicates that feeling angry increases optimism, creativity, effective performance" and that "expressing anger can lead to more successful negotiations."
But while we're kidding ourselves if we think we can rid ourselves of dark emotions completely (or even that we should want to), that doesn't mean you should give yourself permission to put your negative feelings on a hair trigger. There's a right way to healthily embrace and utilize your anger, the pair insists, offering tips:
1. Decide whether it's worth expressing
Just because expressing your anger can be beneficial, doesn't mean it always is. There are plenty of situations in which showing people just how upset you are will do no one any good. The first step to having a healthful relationship with your anger is to learn to separate these two situations.
"Recognize the difference between events that you can change and those that are beyond your ability to control," suggest Kashdan and Biswas-Diener. "If you are on a trip and you lose your winter hat on the first day, there is nothing you can change, so there is no benefit in expressing anger. But if you are haggling with a shopkeeper at a flea market over the price of a hat and you're angry that you've been quoted a higher price than the last customer, you possess some control."
2. Employ the "discomfort caveat"
Anger can give you energy and convey urgency, but it can also muddle your thinking and dent your ability to communicate clearly. One way to reap the benefits of expressing anger while avoiding these potential pitfalls is to admit the possibility of trouble ahead of time. Essentially, you open by acknowledging how anger might affect your behavior beforehand. Kashdan and Biswas-Diener call this the "discomfort caveat."
"Let other people know explicitly that you are experiencing intense emotions and, because of this, it is more difficult than usual for you to communicate clearly. Apologize in advance, not for your emotions or your actions but for the potential lack of clarity in how you convey what you're about to say," they recommend. "The aim of the discomfort caveat is to disarm the person, to keep them from becoming defensive. When someone hears that you are uncomfortable and that the conversation is difficult for you, it increases the likelihood that they will approach what you have to say with empathy."
3. Slow down
The truly ticked off are not known to stop and carefully ponder, but if you're going to get the most benefit out of your anger, you need to resist the natural impulse to rush ahead. "Try thinking of anger as coming in both fast and slow varieties, when you want to scream versus when you want to motivate a person in a calculated way. When you're angry, give yourself permission to pause for a moment, even if someone is standing there awaiting a response. You can even let them know that you are intentionally slowing the situation down," Kashdan and Biswas-Diener write.
"When you're angry, pauses, deep breaths, and moments of reflection more effectively exercise power and control than rapid-fire responses. If you feel less angry when you slow down, great, but that's not the goal. This is about giving yourself a wider range of options to choose from in an emotionally charged situation," they add.
4. Monitor and course correct
Before you get into a conversation isn't the only time you need to check in with your anger levels and evaluate your approach. As the discussion progresses, you should also monitor how it's affecting your emotions and what effect your approach is having on the other person. "Keep checking in with yourself by asking, 'Is my anger helping or hurting the situation?'"
5. Stay within your personal "speed limit"
Like racing too fast down a winding road, too much anger is dangerous. Kashdan and Biswas-Diener suggest you utilize a technique developed by psychologist John Riskind to keep yourself from escalating the situation into the danger zone.
"Check in with yourself frequently to assess whether your anger is increasing, decreasing, or stable in the given situation. For a scrupulous self-examination, use a number and even a few descriptive words to capture the intensity of your anger," they say. You could rate it on a one-to-10 scale, for instance, with one being a peaceful cruise and 10 being an explosive headlong race toward confrontation.
If your anger accelerates above your personal "speed limit" for control, you need to slow things down. Visualizing putting on the brakes can help. Pay attention to how your anger subsides and your attitude toward the other person starts to shift.
Do you tend to leverage your anger or bottle it up?