How to harness anger to perform better

At Mental Toughness Inc., we teach that passion aids in the myelination of the neural pathways of the brain. These pathways link our thoughts to our feelings and behaviours.

Imagine racing determinedly to be first to the soccer ball, risking an off balance strike, and scoring a critical goal. The passion to pull it off, and the heightened emotion at the result, increases the production of the conducting material in the brain, effectively making this same emotional and physical response easier to tap into the next time.

How to harness anger to perform at your best

Negative passion unfortunately has the same effect. Imagine now digging a ball in beach volleyball so that your partner can set it perfectly for you. You scramble to your feet and run into position, launching yourself in the air in preparation for a monster kill …and your attack is just out at a critical point in the game. You’re angry with yourself. Your blood is pumping, your body is in fight or flight mode with the adrenaline of the point, and you are furious with yourself, seeing the gaff in your mind over and over. Guess what kind of neural pathway you are reinforcing now?

Positive Psychology researcher Robert Biswas Deiner has co-authored a book called the Upside of Your Dark Side. In the book he explores other perspectives from which to consider our negative emotions and inclinations.

He points out that ANGER may have a positive purpose:

  1. The science shows that anger is associated with risk taking and optimism.
  2. This means someone who is feeling anger may be willing to stretch themselves. As an athlete this may translate into testing the physical boundaries or pushing oneself beyond previous levels of exertion.
  3. Anger is a signal that someone or something may be threatened.
  4. This could relate to your teammates or even your long held personal goals. If the competition threatens these precious relationships, anger can spark a passionate outpouring of commitment and physical determination.
  5. The third area where anger might be an asset is when anger, in the form of outrage, connects principles of right and wrong.
  6. This is often associated with social justice behaviours. When honour, fair play and sportsmanship are threatened, anger may fuel the kind of behavior that many believe is the hallmark of a great athlete. Passionate social justice behaviours in the realm of sport look like extra ordinary effort, outstanding team play, and unmitigated fairness and maybe even ‘within the rules’ punishment of the offender.

So the next time you feel angry ask yourself what kind of pathway do you want to be able to access the next time.

Make a choice how you use the anger you are feeling: to generate negative feelings toward yourself or teammates, or to fuel you to greater athletic feats. Hardly a choice now is it?

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