Does Anger Really Motivate?

Anger will only take you so far.

It’s her own fault. Serena Williams, second place World Tennis Champion, recently captured the world’s attention in a wicked display of rage; not irritation, frustration or anger but true rage. Almost at match point, Ms. Williams faulted – her foot touched the line while serving – which brought her opponent one step closer to winning the Grand Slam Tournament.

Perhaps Ms. Williams thought that the referee’s ruling was a mistake. Sure, that justifies “raising a little stink” in the hopes of influencing the call… or does it? It’s important to realize that confronting a judgment call is a reasonable action to take. But what does anger have to do with it? Can anger really motivate?

During a personal session, I was channeling for a Hollywood actress who has co-starred with actors like Michael Cane. Among other things, I shared with candor that she was “angry.” She was mad with other actors, directors, intimate partners and life in general –she held the belief that her anger motivated her growth.

The thought that anger is a good motivator is popular. In an excerpt of her own words from her book “On the Line,” Ms. Serena Williams is quoted as saying:

“They want to see you angry. Be angry – but don’t let them see it. Play angry but let them see confidence. Play angry and let them see patience. Play angry and let them see certainty. Play angry and let them see determination.”

I applaud anyone’s honesty and choice to discover what they are creating and how. However, I question if Ms. Williams is the true author of these comments. Perhaps these thoughts were handed down to Ms. Williams by another person as a means to motivate her to play better? Somehow I doubt that the Hollywood actress, the tennis star or anyone comes out of the womb angry.

Can anger work as a motivator?

Sure, but anger will only take you so far. Using emotion as a catalyst in creating change is deeply encouraged, however, using emotions laced with anger can only have a wicked backlash. If you subscribe to the idea that “life is a journey,” then motivating yourself by anger will make your walk through life more outraged than sweet.

To illustrate this point, you might ask yourself, how you feel when you interact with people who use anger as a tool to motivate themselves in day-to-day life?

Have you ever seen a doctor explode with anger before his next operation? What about a lawyer screaming on the phone during a negotiation? Have you witnessed a mother using anger to motivate her child? Maybe you’ve spotted a football coach encouraging the team to “get mad!” Have you switched TV channels to catch sight of a red-faced minister yelling and screaming about love?

It isn’t just Ms. Williams who has been taught to be mad

Obviously, the use of anger as a motivator is still taught. A successful person with anger issues is quite commonplace. So, what about you? Do you use anger as means to inspire or motivate yourself to top performance? What about the way you motivate others?

If you’re honest, odds are great you’ve given it a try. Maybe even in this minute you’re not aware that you feel the need to motivate yourself through anger. Perhaps, like Ms. Williams, you are creating patterns, habits and opportunities to become aware. Anger as a motivational tool is grossly overrated in terms of its effectiveness.

Is it possible that using anger to motivate has had its time and it is now time to try something else?