Wednesday, 8 July 2020

Using 'negative' emotions to your advantage

It may seem contradictory to suggest that emotions usually viewed as negative can actually be used in your favour, but with the right research and approach, they can. Discover how the emotions of sadness, anger, and fear can be used to your advantage with steps that will increase your emotional intelligence.

What are emotions?

Emotions are more than merely feelings, and according to, they are defined as a “complex state of feeling that results in physical and psychological changes that influence thought and behaviour.” This definition shows how important it is to be aware when you are experiencing these emotions and to ensure the physical and psychological changes can be kept in check.

There are many different theories about emotions and their purpose. Renowned naturalist and biologist, Charles Darwin believed that emotions were essential in order for animals and humans to survive. 

We now know that when animals are being stalked by predators they will experience fear which will start a chain of chemical reactions in the body enabling the body to become stronger and run faster. This rapid change in the body provides the body with the tools to either stay and fight or flee the situation. Animals are also likely to display warning signs to predators, such as hissing so that they are less likely to be approached. The chain of reactions can also heighten certain senses such as sight (making it easier to focus on predators) and hearing (to assist us in making an escape). 

Humans and fear

In a similar respect, humans will experience fear and a similar process will occur in the body. They will rapidly develop clearer eyesight, stronger muscles and sharper hearing. The heart will pump more oxygen through the body. Of course, in the case of humans the fear is not usually a predator these days!

The sorts of behaviours that may have protected us from harm in the past may result in us avoiding situations that we find frightening, such as avoiding parties due to a fear of being embarrassed, or failing to turn up to job interviews for fear of failure. 

In order to use fear to your advantage you need acknowledge the emotion and think about it realistically. It is widely known that we all experience fear, the difference between those who are high achievers and the rest of us is that high achievers experience the same fears, but take the decision to push forwards towards their goals anyway.

You can move forwards towards your own goals too. To achieve this:
  • indulge in daily self-reflection – write down all the elements that you find frightening and what specifically makes you afraid.
  • assess the pros and cons – write a list of the positives that could be achieved through facing a particular fear and a list of the negatives.
  • face the fear – perhaps the most difficult step of all is to face your fears. Attend the party or the interview and have an actual experience of the thing you fear. If it's too difficult for you, break it down into smaller, more manageable steps.
  • Give yourself recognition – no matter how small the steps you take, congratulate yourself at each stage.

Why do we feel anger?

Following the Darwinian approach, it may be difficult to see how anger could benefit either animals or humans. For animals, anger acts in much the same way as fear as it forces the animal to protect what is theirs if they feel threatened. An animal is most likely to react with anger physically only when they have assessed the situation and come to the realisation that they can win or when they feel cornered and have no choice but to fight.

Do humans do the same? In many ways, yes!

Although to us, anger seems to be just a reaction to something we perceive to be unjust or negative, it is in fact a reaction that tells us that a boundary has been breached. In the same way an animal will assess its opponent and realise they could win, rather than flee, an angry person will have determined that they can dis-arm their opponent. The difference is that one would hope a person wouldn’t react with physical violence when angry, but they may well behave aggressively by raising their voice and presenting an aggressive expression.

How can anger ever be positive?

Once you're aware that something is making you angry, you can change its direction and use it to enhance your career or outlook on life, rather than hinder it.
  • Channel your anger in a different direction to avoid an unpleasant situation – leave the room, go for a run, or scream into a pillow. Try to avoid being reactionary.
  • Acknowledge the things that make you angry – be it a person or experience – and reflect on why you may be feeling this particular emotion. Your anger is telling you something. How you respond is up to you. 
  • Write a plan – the great thing about anger is that it actually makes us determined. If you're angry because you were overlooked for a promotion, write down how you're going to deal with this and how you're going to make your situation better. This can be asking for feedback and creating a step-by-step plan to being a more attractive candidate next time.
  • Accept you may be wrong and apologise – if you have given in to your anger you may have acted in the spur of the moment. Reflect on the situation. Could the person you're angry with actually be right, and if so, be the bigger person and acknowledge this.


People often leave us alone when we are sad. The miserable loneliness of sadness may not appear to have any advantages, but sadness is perhaps one of the most cathartic experiences one can have. When one loses a loved one, it is important to grieve and to feel the sadness associated with the loss. The same can be said of a broken relationship as you mourn the loss of your connection with the other person. It isn’t only humans that feel sadness. Animals are often seen mourning the loss of their offspring or being sad when alone. This suggests that there is an evolutionary reason why humans still feel sadness and that it must have its uses.

Why is sadness good?

  • It can make you more empathetic – when you experience sadness yourself, it can help you understand another person’s emotions when they experience something similar.
  • It improves memory – studies show that sad people are more likely to remember the smaller details of an event in contrast to those in a more positive mood.
  • It’s a great motivator – After the initial period of sadness, people are more likely to find themselves motivated to better themselves or to actively cheer themselves up. 

Knowledge is most certainly the key to using 'negative' emotions to your advantage and the more you acknowledge and explore your feelings and the reason why they have come about, the better you will become at understanding how to achieve this.

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