Emotions and Productivity

This is the first of three posts dealing with “productivity”.  In this post, I talk about emotions and productivity directly.  In the next post, I address overcoming “fear” to complete a task.  In the third and final post, I address the issue of motivation.

If you work with, or relate to, other people, you probably have experienced a situation in which you did all the right things but got the wrong result.  Most likely, the “wrong result” was elicited by an emotion.

Please note that I did not say the emotion caused the “wrong result” because emotions do not make you do anything.  But, the emotion can elicit or lead to a reaction that does not match the situation and, therefore, by definition, can be viewed as “wrong”.

Let’s dive deeper.

Productivity, when it comes to a job or a task, involves getting the right job done.  If you are getting the right job done, you are being productive.

This is called being effective.

Now, you can increase your productivity by doing the job in the right way.

This is called being efficient.

Effectiveness and efficiency are two sides of the same coin and there are numerous articles written on this subject and different ways to measure both effectiveness and efficiency.

In a very general sense, if you have a job or a task to complete and it is not getting done, there are at least 5 areas for you to consider:

  1. is the job clearly defined?
  2. do you have the necessary skills to complete the job?
  3. do you have all the resources you need?
  4. do you have the necessary authority to do what needs to be done?
  5. are there emotions (yours or someone elce’s) which are impeding the completion of the job?

For most jobs, if the answer to the first four questions is “yes”, the job gets done and that is all there is to it.

However, if the job is not getting done, then the fifth area dealing with emotions is where you need to look for an explanation.

Let me give you two examples.

My letter to “Sophie”.

When I promoted to the position of Supervising Senior Psychologist, I had an employee who tended to do as little work as possible, had little respect for policy, and who was clever enough to avoid being held responsible for his actions.

As I was not sure how to handle this individual, I asked “headquarters” for some suggestions.  I was advised to write a general memo to all of my staff saying that rules and policies needed to be followed.  I was also advised to add a standard (boiler plate) statement at the bottom of the memo stating that failure to comply with what was stated in the memo could result in “disciplinary proceedings”.

The memo was generic and was addressed to all staff as I did not have enough “evidence” to direct my comments to the specific staff member who was the “target” of the memo.

When I went into work following release of the memo, I was accosted by “Sophie” who was visibly upset and who noted that she needed to talk to me immediately.

In my office, Sophie informed me, in dramatic terms, that she had worked in the Institution for many years, had always followed the rules, was a reliable employee, and was offended by my “threat” to expose her to “disciplinary proceedings”.

Having been taken by surprise and knowing that there were no issues  with  Sophie, I asked her what was the issue about which she was concerned.  She pulled out my memo and pointed to the “boiler plate” comment on the bottom of  the paper.

When I explained to her that this comment was generic, that I was advised to put it there because it is supposed to be on all memos which “address” policy issues, that it had nothing to do with her and that there were no concerns about her as an employee, she took a deep breath and went back to her own office.

In retrospect, what happened is that Sophie incorrectly personalized the memo, felt threatened by the implication that she was going to be disciplined, got angry at the implied threat and wanted to take me to task and defend herself.

Emotions had entered into and impacted the interaction.

Items 1-4 were clearly in place.  She knew the policies and, to the best of her ability, followed all the rules.

Her misinterpretation of the “boiler plate” in the memo elicited her anger and her anger initiated her attempt to deal with the perceived threat.

The second example involves procrastination.

When you procrastinate, you put off doing a task and you justify and rationalize your avoidance in any number of ways.

By the way, the English spelling of rationalize is, of course…


The psychological spelling of the word is…

r-a-t-i-o-n-a-l    l-i-e-s

The implication is that the excuses you may offer to justify your avoidance of doing the task at hand including, but not limited to,

  • I really need to check my (email, Facebook feed)
  • I really need to clean or organize my (desk, file cabinet)
  • I really need to (you fill in the other task)

while probably true (and therefore “rational”) do not need to be done now and clearly are not more important than the task you are avoiding (hence, they are “lies”).

In August 2018, I wrote a post which suggested that you view procrastination as an emotion.  I suggest you click on over and take a look.

Getting to “Done”: Master Your Procrastination as a Strategic Tool

For the purposes of this post, however, it is possible that you can know what the job is, and have the skills, resources, and authority to do the job (items 1-4) and still find a “reason” to avoid doing it or putting it off.

This is item #5 and usually involves an emotion. The emotion typically involved in procrastination is anxiety.

As an emotion, anxiety is a future based feeling the message of which is that there may be a threat and that threat may hurt me.

I was a procrastinator in college.

It was only when I got into graduate school and began to self-reflect that I understood my procrastination.

The reasoning that led me to procrastinate went like this..

  • If I take the time necessary to do the task right and fall short, I have only myself to blame and I might see myself as inadequate or inferior.
  • If I procrastinate and do the task at the last minute, I can do my best in the time I have available.
  • If I fall short, I can still justify my actions because I did my best and I can avoid any self-criticism.

Yes, there are flaws in the logic and these flaws comprise the “rational lies”.  But, for me at the time, the justifications worked.

I give this example to illustrate how emotions can get in the way of one being productive.

The antidote is to master the emotions by assessing them and choosing an effective response.

This is what I had to do to overcome my procrastination.

I hope this post has been informative and helpful.





How to express your emotions.

I will talk about how to express your emotions to another person below.

But first, I need to address the question that both precedes the issue of expression and is often overlooked by people who write about emotions.

That question is….How do I know what emotion I am experiencing?

I address this issue in my book Emotions as Tools: A Self Help Guide to Controlling Your Life not Your Feelings.   I also provide checklists which will help you identify your feelings.

That being said, let me give you enough information about how to identify your feelings so at least you can get started.

Physical signs: 

Typically, your first indicator that you are experiencing an emotion will be physical changes in your body.

This could include muscles tightening, a sense of warmth, your body preparing to go to war (fight), run (flight), or stiffen (freeze).

That your body is your first indicator follows from the subconscious element of the emotional process which involves your subconscious (and continuous)  scanning of your surroundings for any threat and your brain preparing your body (again subconsciously) to deal with the perceived threat.

This is the primitive part of the emotional process which has existed in humans since we lived in caves and which evolved to help us survive as a species.  This part of the emotional process is very fast and automatic which, by the way, you would want it to be if you were about to be eaten by a saber toothed tiger.

The problem, however, for all of us today, is that this primitive emotional process continues to function unchanged in us just as it did in our cave dwelling ancestors.  This rapid reaction is the reason that many people feel controlled by their emotions, they view emotions as beyond their comprehension, and they blame their emotions for the inappropriate behavior they display when they experience an emotion.

None of these “assumptions” about emotions are true.

  1. You are NOT controlled by your emotions eventhough your initial reaction is subconscious.
  2. You can comprehend your emotions by reading my book, checking out the index tab to all my posts by scrolling to the top of this page or tapping into any number of resources available to you on the internet.
  3. The actions you take or your response  to your emotions are always your choice.  Your emotions do prepare you for a response but do NOT force you do anything.

Cognitive signs.

The “modern” component of the emotional process involves the thoughts you have about the threat your scans have perceived and your body has alerted you to through its physical reaction.

You might be more sensitive to changes in your thinking than you are to changes in your body.

If you are, you will become aware of “threat-based” thoughts which are preparing you to engage with the threat (indicative of anger), getting you all worked up over something that could occur in the future (indicative of anxiety), or, perhaps, alerting you to a situation that has immediate and unavoidable potential to do you great harm (fear).

You can learn to acknowledge these thoughts, accept their initial message as possible, question the extent to which these thoughts match what is happening to you, and choose whether to act on the thoughts or change them to match your situation.

By the way, if your thoughts alert you to an eminent threat and you are feelings fear, my suggestion is to escape the situation and assess it later.  An example would be a stranger in an elevator who looks “okay” but elicits an uncomfortable feeling in you.  Trust your “gut” and take the next elevator.  Whether he is or is not a threat is irrelevant.

This process of assessing your thoughts is what mastering your emotions  as strategic tools is all about.

How to express emotions

I have written a series of three posts entitled “How to deal with someone who directs their anger at you.” which touch upon some of the same suggestions that I address below.

Use “I” language

I language sounds like this… I am angry about your comments you made to me.  I found what you said to be inappropriate.  What exactly did you mean by what you said?”

There are several elements in the above statement…

  •  I am angry about your comments you made to me.

This person labels the feeling (anger) and takes full responsibility for the feeling.

  • I found what you said to be inappropriate.

This clearly states this individual’s perception and does not place any blame.

  • What exactly did you mean by what you said?

This question starts with “what” which is designed to focus on the other person’s intent and not “why” which often elicits an excuse.

This question also leaves open the possibility that the questioner might have misunderstood or misinterpreted what was said.

Finally, this question gives the other person a chance to explain, apologize for, or even change the comment that was made.

Stay focused on the feeling and the issue which elicited the feeling.

  • Don’t bring in info which is not directly relevant to the sit you are addressing.
  • What happened last week is not relevant here unless the actions of the other person is representative of an ongoing and unresolved issue.

Acknowledge that you might have misunderstood and ask for clarification.

If appropriate, apologize for any misunderstanding.

  • This is not saying you are wrong.
  • This is not negating your feelings.

If you are wrong, acknowledge this directly and apologize.

Be congruent.

  • non-verbals should match verbals

Remember the concept of escalation

  • Start with the lowest amount of energy needed to accurately reflect what you are feeling. This is being assertive.
  • You can always increase the level of aggressiveness if you need to.

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Is it “okay” to have a feeling such as anger, anxiety, jealousy, etc?

This seems like an easy question.

And, in one sense, it is.  The easy answer is …

“YES, it is okay to feel whatever emotion you experience.”

This is true whether:

1.  You grew up being taught (or learned as an adult) that feelings should be avoided because they are bad, “unladylike”, messy, impure, or dangerous

    • The correctional staff I worked with viewed all emotions as both messy and to be avoided as unnecessary because they “got in the way of” their doing their jobs.
    • The incarcerated young women I worked with viewed emotions as hurtful and  dangerous because they “caused” these young women to hurt others or themselves.
    • The professional women who interacted with me on LinkedIn noted that they were demeaned when they attempted to express their anger in a work setting.

2. You were never taught how to master your feelings so avoiding them was the easiest way to cope.

    • This was my experience.

3.  You tend to do dumb or hurtful things when you experience strong feelings, you blamed the feelings, and you chose to avoid them if you could

4. and so forth.

But, if you are attempting to master your feelings as tools, as I recommend you do in  my two Amazon Best selling books (Emotions as Tools and Beyond Anger Management, there is more to this question.

Indeed, the question has two underlying assumptions that are not obvious..

  1. The first assumption is that there are some emotions you might choose to experience and some emotions that you might choose not to experience.

There are two parts to this assumption.

The first part is that there are good and bad feeling and you might want to eliminate the bad ones

The second part is that there are emotions which feel good and others which feel bad and you might want to eliminate the ones that feel bad.

2.  The second assumption is that you have a choice whether you experience some emotions and not others.

Let me address these two underlying assumptions.

The first assumption above is based on the emotional myth that the emotions that feel “good” are the ones you want to keep and the ones that feel “bad”, or hurt, you might want to eliminate.

This myth, while sometimes upheld in articles, is incorrect.

The truth is that all emotions are just tools that provide you with information that you can adaptively utilize to improve your life and your relationships.

There are no “good” or “bad” emotions. There are only emotional tools.

While it is true that some emotions such as happy, enthusiastic, and pride which “feel” good in that they are uplifting and lead to you engaging in an activity with renewed energy and interest and some emotions such as anxiety, sadness, guilt and jealousy which “feel” bad in that  they might lead you to withdraw from an activity or from other people or result in a sense that you or what you have done are inferior and worthy of contempt, how you experience the emotion does not reflect at all on the value of that emotion as a tool.

A car can be used as a life-saving tool to get you to the hospital for needed medical care or, as  we have seen in the news, it  can be used as a murder weapon when it driven into a crowd of people.

We don’t label the car as good or bad although we clearly could put a label on how it was deployed.

As all emotions are a source of valuable information about how you perceive your surroundings and a source of motivation to deal with your surroundings, I  suggest that you welcome all your emotions and learn how to master them as tools so that the information they provide to you can guide you to make better decisions.

So, even if you could eliminate an emotion, which you can’t as I’ll show below, you would not want to.

Let me give you another example.

No one really likes to experience pain and we have a variety of ways to minimize our pain.  But, pain, serves an important purpose in that it alerts us to a situation which requires our attention whether it is stopping what we are doing, getting help and first aid or more rest, and so forth.  My nephew has no sensation below his waist from a congenital condition.  Should there be a “threat” to his lower extremities which was not immediately obvious, he would not know about it.

Emotions provide us with important information and prepare us to deal with that information.  You do, in fact, want all the emotions you can get.

The second assumption shows a lack of understanding how the emotional process works.

The emotional process, which includes the unconscious scanning of your surroundings and the initial emotional reaction, occurs out of your awareness and, therefore, is not controllable by you.

By the way, if you ever need your emotions to alert you to a life-threatening situation which is not  obvious but from which you need to escape NOW, you would want this part of the emotional process to be beyond your control.

As you can see if you download the free PDF of the anger mastery cycle by clicking on the link which will take you to another page on this site, the cycle contains an unconscious and a conscious set of actions.

Once you become aware of your emotion, you can inhibit your initial reaction but you cannot eliminate it.

Controlling your emotional reaction is the basis of anger management courses. It is useful but often inadequate.

The conscious part of the emotional process which includes validating the initial emotional reaction, assessing the match between your initial perception and the situation, and choosing an appropriate response is in your control and constitutes emotional mastery.

The same is true whether you are mastering anger or mastering an emotion such as envy, anxiety, or jealousy.

In my books, I recommend going beyond managing your emotions and learning to master your emotions by choosing an appropriate response.

You can access prior posts on mastering anger and anxiety as well as jealousy and envy by clicking on the index tab above.

If you are registered, I welcome your comments.






5 Anger Myths Explained, Discussed and Debunked Part #2

In Part #1 of this two part series, I discussed what a myth was and looked at the first of 5 anger myths.

In this post, I discuss anger myths 2, 3, 4, and 5.

Myth #2: My anger  controls me.

Myth #2 also appears in many forms.

  • My anger made me do it (whatever action “it” refers to).
  • I had no choice (to do what I did).  I was so angry.

The implication of the myth is that you are a robot without free will when it comes to the emotion of anger.

This myth persists in part because of the nature of anger and all emotions.

Emotions have existed since man, as a species, lived in caves or on the Savannah.  Emotions evolved to help us survive as a species. Humans survived by constantly scanning their surroundings for threats that would kill them.  When a threat was perceived (consciously or subconsciously), the brain automatically engaged a fight or flight reaction to protect the individual from the threat.  This process, initiated through the Amygdala and the Reticular Activating System in the brain,  was (and continues to be) fast and automatic as it should be if a genuine threat exists.

The emotion that was experienced always matched the nature of the threat and prepared the person for appropriate action.

Today, because most of the threats we face are psychological in nature and not survival based, the match between the emotion and the reaction is less reliable.

The process, however, has not changed since we lived in caves.

Because of the automatic emotional reaction, it is easy to see why some people may believe the emotion forces them to act.

As humans continued to evolve and develop a bigger, more complicated brain, the cerebral cortex, or thinking part of the brain, allowed us to think about, or evaluate, what we were experiencing and gave us access to more choices.

Today, the emotional reaction still exists but we now have the opportunity to evaluate the nature of the threat and choose how we want to respond.

So, while the myth persists, the truth is that our brains have evolved and given us the opportunity to evaluate our emotional reaction before we act-out and, therefore, to choose how we want to respond. This is the more “modern” part of the anger mastery cycle.

The downside of the myth is that those who believe it feel helpless to deal with their anger and are left with two choices:

  1. never get angry
  2. always act-out on their anger

Choice #1 is nearly impossible and choice #2 could result in their getting in trouble or to others avoiding them.

In addition, if anger is perceived as the causative element, these individuals will perceive no need to get help.

Myth #3: Someone else can make you angry.

This myth is similar to Myth #2.

The difference is that while myth #2 blames the anger and implies a sense of helplessness, this myth avoids responsibility for inappropriate anger by blaming the “victim” of one’s anger for causing the acting-out.

Aggressive men who abuse others use this myth as an justification for their behavior.

The myth persists because it offers those who act out inappropriately an excuse for their inappropriate actions, a way to avoid taking responsibility for their behavior, and a way to blame someone else for what they have chosen to do.

In other words, the angry individual..

  1. Claims that they  did not (mess up) because they are a bad or hurtful guy (which they most likely are) but because their anger gave them no choice and
  2. Avoids personal responsibility for their actions by blaming someone else for the inappropriate behavior

As an aside, people who get drunk and act-out attempt to blame the alcohol for their actions.

“If I wasn’t drunk, I would not have…”

While this statement may be true, it ignores the fact that the person chose to get drunk and is, therefore, completely responsible for their actions.

Similarly, with anger.

Yes, it may be true that if a (wife, girlfriend) had not done what they did, the abuser probably would not have gotten angry, and if they were not angry, they probably would not have acted-out. However, this sequence ignores the fact that the individual is not a robot and always has a choice regarding the actions they take.

Anger is never the cause of inappropriate behavior.

Myth #4: Anger is always a secondary emotion

Many writers choose to label anger as a secondary emotion.

This assertion is  wrong, it ignores some basic research findings and it is disempowering because it denies the primary function of anger as a primitive threat detector.  In addition, it denigrates the energy anger provides as a motivator of effective corrective action.

A secondary emotion is one that is used as a substitute for another feeling.

Men tend to use anger as a secondary emotion to substitute for feelings of anxiety, hurt or vulnerability.

This happens because anger is an empowering emotion which elicits a sense of power, ability to go on the attack, and a sense of strength.  Anger evolved to do exactly this.

Feelings like anxiety, sadness, and vulnerability, however, leave men feeling weak and inadequate. Again, this is what these feelings are supposed to do.

So, when faced with feeling weak or inadequate, all of which “hurt”, a man may choose to express anger.

This is secondary anger and it is always dishonest.

The truth is that men need to learn to master all their feelings and the information their feelings provide if they want to be more interpersonally effective.

Myth #5: Women should not get angry.

This myth states that women should not get angry because:

  • it isn’t feminine or
  • the consequences aren’t worth it

This myth persists because the the truth is that for some women, expressing anger (especially in a professional office setting) can lead to unwanted consequences.

Several years ago, I went onto a professional women’s forum on LinkedIn. I identified myself as a man and respectfully asked for feedback from these women regarding what happened when they showed appropriate anger in a professional setting.  I received over 2000 responses to my query.  The message clearly was that when women showed anger, they were demeaned, marginalized and negatively labelled. It seems that their male colleagues were not equipped to deal with these women and their issues in a professional and validating manner.

As a side note, I recently went to the same network on LinkedIn with another question, clearly identified myself as a male and was “informed” that I was not welcome on the network.  How times have changed!

The bottom line is that this myth implies that a woman is not entitled to be angry and to use her anger as a tool to bring about change in her environment. This implication is both incorrect and insidiously disempowering.

The truth is that while she may have to adjust how she expresses her anger, she needs to validate her feelings and choose a more indirect strategic approach to using the energy of her anger to facilitate change.

My book Beyond Anger Management: Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool has a whole chapter devoted to Professional Women.

In these two posts, I introduced you to five widely held myths about anger.  My goal was to show you these myths, make you aware of the various ways these myths present themselves, help you understand why the myths persist, and empower you to overcome these myths and strategically express your anger rather than be hobbled and let your anger be taken away from you by  half-truths, misinformation, and ingrained misunderstandings.

I welcome your comments.

To My Members: A New Milestone! There are over 1000 of you. How can I help you going forward?

Today, we reached a new milestone at TheEmotionsDoctor.com!

We exceeded 1000 registered members of this blog.

This is a milestone I never in my dreams believed I would achieve!

Thank you.

While the official WordPress label for all of you when you register is “user”, I prefer to think of all of you as members and my blog as a “membership site”.

Let me explain.

I do not monetize, or charge for, access to The Emotions Doctor blog because I believe that the information I provide should be available to anyone who wants to  use it and grow with it. And, no one likes Ads!

My books, of course, are available on Amazon.

That being said, I write for you, my readers.

And, I would like to provide content that you can use.

So, that being said…….

  • You took the time to register for my blog
  • I assume that you have found the material I write useful
  • Now,  please help me help you by letting me know what you would like me to write about.
  • And, let me know what, if anything, I can do to make this site more useful for you.
    • Is the index tab helpful?
    • Are the posts too long, not long enough?
    • Are the topics covered sufficiently informative for you?

As a registered “member”, you are the only one who can leave a comment on my blog.

And, this is one way to contact me.

However, a better way is to send me an email with the word “member” in the subject line.

  • In the email, let me know what you would like me to address in a post.
  • The only caveat is that I do not do therapy through my blog. So while I will attempt to answer any question I can as specifically as I can, the answer will be educational and not therapeutic.  No need to worry, I’ve answered many questions on Quora.com and I am quite good at giving useful information.
  • My email address is TheEmotionsDoctor (at) gmail.com

Thanks, again, for helping me reach this milestone.


Ed Daube, Ph.D.   The Emotions Doctor.


An object lesson in Emotional Mastery from an incredible American athlete.

If you are in America as you read this, let me be the first to wish you a Happy Fourth of July (tomorrow).  Enjoy your holiday and be safe.

I will publish the second post on Anger Myths in two weeks.  I thought I’d publish this article today because it is about the resilience of an American athlete and it teaches a very important lesson about mastering your emotions.

For my readers in other countries, I will stipulate that the same story could apply to other athletes, business people, or anyone who chooses to master their emotions.

An article in the June 19, 2019 issue of the LA Times caught my attention.

The article was about Crystal Dunn, currently a member of the United States Women’s Soccer Team, and her incredible comeback as an athlete.

As noted in the article,  Dunn was cut from the team  four years ago, “cycled through a range of emotions”, and made a decision which led her to where she is today.

As a reader of this blog, you are very familiar with my writings on Emotional Mastery.  It is this perspective that peaked my interest in this article about Crystal Dunn.

The article states “After she was cut from the team four years ago, Dunn said she quickly cycled through a range of emotions from disbelief and anger to pity and embarrassment before finally settling on determination. So, she redoubled her efforts, promising to make herself so good that she would never be cut from the team again.  It worked.”

While I don’t know any more about Dunn than is stated in the article, the information that is provided offers an excellent learning opportunity from the perspective of Emotional Mastery.

The foundation of Emotional Mastery is that each person should…

  • experience every emotion (this step is an unconscious process)
  • validate the emotion as providing useful information (this step accepts the message of the emotion whether or not it is accurate)
  • assess the match between the emotion and the perception of the situation that elicited the emotion (this step addresses the accuracy of the message)
  • choose a response that deals with the situation, as it is, and allows you to adaptively move through whatever is happening to you (this step is the culmination of Emotional Mastery and the justification for it)

The article implies that Dunn worked her way through eac of these steps.

Her first reaction to being dropped from the team was disbelief and anger.  Disbelief is obvious as she did not foresee being cut from the team.

Disbelief could easily lead to anger.

The message of anger is that there is a threat that needs to be addressed.  The threat here could be that she viewed being cut as “unfair”, “misguided”, or just plain “wrong”.  Anger, in response to unfairness is understandable.

She then  moved to pity and embarrassment.

Pity is a “poor me” emotion if it is applied to oneself or an emotion of “poor you” when applied to someone else.   The darker side of pity is an implication that one is superior to the person who is the object of pity.  For Dunn, self-pity might have involved a sense of sadness for her loss at her position on the team.

Anger, or a sense that the threat is external, and must be rebuffed could give way to pity when the idea of a threat gives way to one’s sense of loss once it is realized that there is no threat.

Pity, it seems, gave way to embarrassment which is a feeling of self-consciousness or shame. The message of embarrassment is “I screwed up, got caught and was subjected to public ridicule. There is something wrong with me.”

Pity could give way to embarrassment when the sense of loss is viewed as attributable to the actions one did or did not do.

Dunn seems to have felt that the effort she put into staying on the team wasn’t enough.

The final emotion that Dunn is reported to have experienced was determination.  This message of this emotion is “I can overcome what has happened to me and make it better”.

As an emotion, anger is energizing.  It gives you the motivation to overcome and overwhelm a perceived threat.  This is great as long as there is a threat that can  be addressed.  If there is no threat, anger can lead to inappropriate acting-out.  We see a lot of this type of behavior in the news.

Both pity and embarrassment can be debilitating if they lead one to withdraw, choosing to get caught up in self-pity and either blaming someone else for what is taking place or taking no action at all if you believe you are unworthy.  Pity can lead to depression if you see yourself as helpless, hopeless or worthless.

If, however, as is the case with Dunn, embarrassment, or the sense that she screwed up, leads to a decision to grow from the experience, then embarrassment leads to determination which is very energizing.

And, determination motivates change.

So, what can you learn from the actions taken by this incredible athlete?

First, when (not if), you screw up and your situation “goes to hell in a handbasket”, allow yourself to feel all your emotions.

Second, do not allow yourself to go into a negative spiral with your feelings.  Understand that emotions are just messengers and take the time to objectively assess the message your emotions are providing.  Ask for an outside opinion if your own objectivity is inadequate.

Third, let your assessments of each individual feeling push you to “cycle through” your emotions.  This is letting the emotional process run its course.

Finally, push yourself to choose a response that will move you forward and help you to grow through your situation.  Accept the feeling of accomplishment that results and move to determination to take action to “make it happen”.

Congratulations to Crystal Dunn and thank you for an object lesson in mastering one’s emotions.

5 Anger Myths Explained, Discussed and Debunked Part 1

This is the first of a two part series of posts which look at some common myths about anger. While there are many different anger myths, I have chosen to look at 5 myths which I believe will give you, as a follower of this blog, a better understanding of the misinformation that has been written about anger, how this misinformation has evolved into widely believed myths which act to both demean anger as a valid emotion and disempower people, including women, to deploy their anger as a strategic tool.

I have chosen to write two posts rather than one in order to keep the length of each post manageable.

In part #1, this post, I will discuss what a myth is and anger myth #1.

In part #2, I will discuss the remaining 4 myths.

Let’s start by examining what a myth is.

Myth Defined

A myth is a story, a belief, or a statement about how the world is perceived to be.

It might be an “old wive’s tale” that has been repeated so often that it is unquestioned, widely believed,  and accepted as fact.

The Problem with Myths

While many of them may sound both logical and correct, they turn out to be false when critically examined.

That they appear to be logical increases the likelihood that they will be believed and repeated.

Two Examples of Myths

 The 5-second rule.

This rule states that if a food object such as a piece of candy, a slice of banana bread, or a chicken leg falls on the floor, it remains safe to eat as long as you pick it up within 5 seconds of dropping it.

While I hate to admit it, I have heard this rule over and over, repeated it to others, and even acted as if it were true. The facts, however, are that it is completely false. Indeed,  it only takes a very small fraction of one second for bacteria to contaminate your food once the eatable lands on your germy floor. And, if you walk on that floor, it’s germy.

I don’t know how this myth started.

What I do know is that it probably persists because we don’t want to throw out or waste “good”food, or give up that tasty treat just because it accidentally found its way to the floor.

I have implemented the myth because it was convenient.  While I haven’t gotten sick (yet), the myth is still wrong and it is wise not to believe it.

Brown vs White Eggs

Another common myth is that brown eggs are more nutritious than white eggs.  The truth is that egg color is related to the breed of the specific chicken and there is no correlation between egg color and the nutritional value of the egg. Here, the myth might persist because advertisers and merchants have found that they can charge more for brown eggs than white eggs.  So, while you may think you are getting more for your money with brown eggs, all that is going on is that you are unnecessarily spending more than you need to.

I do pay more for extra large eggs and they happen to be brown.  I wouldn’t pay more money for brown vs white eggs.

Anger Myths

There are many myths about anger and I suspect they persist for several reasons which will be discussed below.

Anger myths are problematic and even psychologically harmful because…

  • our behavior is impacted by the myth,
  • our ability to strategically deploy our anger as an emotional tool gets impaired, and
  • the validity of the myth is not challenged,

There are numerous anger myths. I’ll explore 5 of them.

Myth #1: Anger is a negative, dangerous, or bad emotion.

This myth is both widely believed and widely quoted although the form you see it in may change. It is seen as both believable and credible because most people do not understand what anger is or why we experience it.

By the way, I totally explore and explain anger in my Amazon best selling book: Beyond Anger Management: Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool.  You can download the first two chapters of the book (without any opt-in) by clicking on the “Beyond Anger Management” page on your right.

Examples of this myth include:

  • “Anger is a negative emotion.”,
  • “Anger is one step (or letter) away from danger.”, and
  • “It is bad to get angry.”

The facts about anger are..

  • anger is a primitive threat detector,
  • It has three functions:
  1. subconsciously perceive the presence of a survival threat (one that would kill us)
  2. alert us to the threat, and
  3. very quickly prepare our bodies to attack and eliminate the threat. Anger prepares us for battle.

These three functions are primitive, occur subconsciously and are part of the anger mastery cycle.   You can download a PDF of the entire anger mastery cycle by clicking on the link in the page section to your right.

The myth probably persists because some people, when they get angry, do bad or regrettable things.

Secondly, because anger motivates us to take quick action toward a threat, it is easy to assume that the anger causes the negative behavior that becomes associated with it.

It is the association between anger and behavior that gives anger a bad reputation.

That anger causes behavior is another myth we will discuss next.

The truth is..

  • There are no negative emotions.
  • All emotions are adaptive in that they provide us with important information about our surroundings.
  • We can learn to master our emotions and choose to use the information they provide to improve our lives and our relationships.
  • Emotions never force us to do anything.

In the next post, I will discuss the other 4 anger myths.

I welcome your comments.


Why labelling an emotion (correctly) is important.

What is the reason you go to your Doctor when you are experiencing some symptoms?

The simple answer is that you want him (or her) to diagnose what is going on and offer some suggestions about how best to “treat” whatever it is that your symptoms suggest needs attention.

Your symptoms are a window into a process that is taking place in your body.

Simply put, here is the process:

Symptoms ==> Diagnosis ===> intervention

The diagnosis is a label.

The point of a correct diagnosis is that it should lead to a treatment.

In other words, if you don’t know what you are looking at, you can’t give it a label.  If you can’t give it a label, you have no idea how to treat it.

I recently experienced a red rash on my legs that itched like crazy.  Because I did not like waking up at night wanting to scratch my legs, I went to my primary care physician.

He looked at the rash and told me I had “idiopathic pruitis”.

While this sounds very scientific, what these words mean is that I had an itch (pruitis) that he did not know the cause of (idiopathic). In other words, he put a fancy label on my symptoms which did not allow him to do anything else.

In this case, the label was rather useless and did not lead to any recommended treatment.

He implied that it was nothing and that it would quickly go away.

It didn’t.

So, i went to a Dermatologist (skin specialist) who told me that my doctor’s diagnosis was incorrect.  I did not have an unidentifiable “itch”.  I had a seasonal heat rash on my legs. I don’t remember his official diagnosis.  However, based on his diagnosis, he prescribed an ointment and the problem was eliminated.

In this case, the process was very straight forward. The correct label resulted in the choice of an effective response.

But, think about a fever or other “non-specific” symptom.

Here the process is not always so clear. Yes, the symptom tells you that there is something going on in your body but much more information is needed before you can correctly determine what is going on and what intervention is required.

Have you ever had a symptom about which you were concerned and either gone into see your doctor, visited an urgent care center, or, perhaps, consulted with a “practitioner” by phone and were told that there was nothing to worry about?

I have.

The process is similar regarding your emotions.

It is a bit of a stretch and not completely accurate but you could think of your emotions as your symptoms reflecting your underlying perceptions.

I need to point out here that most of this post focuses on correctly labeling your own emotions so that your actions in any given situation are effective in addressing what is happening to you.

It is equally important, if an emotion is directed at you, that you attempt to correctly label that emotion.  Doing so gives you an opportunity to choose how you want to interact with someone who is anxious around you, angry at you, or envious of you.

Your emotions tell you something may be going on  in your environment.

The key to using your emotions as tools or mastering someone else’s emotions, is understanding that emotions are a window into their world and how they are perceiving what is going on between you.

Your emotions alert you to how you are perceiving what is happening to you but much more information is needed before you can decide what you need to do. They are your “early warning system”.

The fact is that you are hardwired to scan your surroundings for any threat and to subconsciously react to that threat. This process is facilitated by and communicated to you through your emotions.

Mastering your emotions involves understanding the function of emotions, correctly identifying the emotion you are experiencing by starting with the physical signs in your body, analyzing the information your emotions make available to you  including your thoughts, and using this information to choose an effective response to the situation in which you find yourself.

Put another way…

In order to master your emotions as tools, it is critical that you learn how to correctly identify the physical signs in your body that represent each emotion and correctly label the emotion so that you can accurately assess your situation and choose an effective response.

Why is it critical that you learn to correctly label your emotions?

You might make the argument, regarding anger, that emotions are self-evident so labeling is no big deal.

In other words, “if it looks like anger, it must be anger”.

Well, the truth is, while anger often is easily recognizable when it is experienced as a “primary” emotion, there are many times when anger is expressed as a secondary emotion.  When this happens, the “anger” you see (or express) may actually be indicative of hurt, anxiety, a sense of weakness, or vulnerability.

For those of you who are “regulars” to this blog, you know that anger is one of 6 primary emotions.  The primary emotions can be seen in all human cultures and many subhuman species.  If you have kids, you will have noticed the primary emotions “shortly” after your infant was born.

The primary emotions are mad, sad, glad, fear, disgust, and surprise.

Many writers have tried to label anger as a secondary emotion.

A secondary emotion is one that substitutes for another emotion.  So, if I am really feeling anxiety but I show you anger, anger is a secondary emotion that I am choosing to display because I don’t want you to know that I am really nervous or anxious.

Sometimes, anger will be used as a secondary emotion by men because men do not want to appear “weak”.  Women may avoid anger and substitute another feeling because it may not be safe, culturally accepted, or situationally “appropriate” for a woman to express anger.

Anger can also be used instrumentally.  When this happens, the display of anger is used to manipulate you into taking some action including backing off, giving in, or surrendering.  I may look angry but I’m actually just determined to “force” you into doing what I want you to do.  My anger is a weapon I’m using on you.

Your feelings are your symptoms.

You need to learn how to “read” your body.

The message of the feelings are the diagnosi.s

Your initial emotional reaction only tells you how you first perceive what is happening to you.  It may, or may not, be accurate.

Your choice of adaptive action is your intervention.

Take a look at the list below. You can find many different lists by googling “feelings list”. This is just one I came across. It is neither unique nor representative.  It is just an example.

While the basic emotion is “afraid”, there is a clear distinction between “apprehensive”, “suspicious”, “worried” and “terrified”. You might choose to respond differently to someone about whom you are worried than you would someone about whom you are suspicious.

I think you get the point.

And, someone else’s reaction toward you would also vary with their perception of you.

Image result for feelings list pdf

In summary, then,  you can’t be sure about the response you choose to  exhibit toward another person until you can be sure that the emotion you are experiencing correctly matches the situation in which you find yourself and you have correctly labeled that emotion.

When you do this, you have mastered that emotion.  And this, emotional mastery, is the goal you are seeking.

The World Should be More Emotional not Less.

Emotions are tools that you can learn to master.

A friend of mine who worked in construction once told me, “You know, you can’t have too many tools.  With the right tools, you can do any job.”

The same is true for emotions as tools.  The more familiar you are with your emotions and the more adept you are at mastering those emotions, the more flexible you are in dealing with any situation you encounter.

In other words, the world should be more emotional (master more emotions) not less (restricting or controlling emotions).

To be clear, emotional mastery includes managing or controlling your arousal level so that you can assess what it going on around you.

The issue, for me, is that controlling one’s emotions is presented as the endpoint not the starting point. And, if the emotion is strong enough, control won’t be considered as an option.

In the absence of emotional mastery, you may only experience anger, assume that there is a threat (see below), and act as if that threat is real.  It may not occur to you that what really is going on is that you are disappointed, hurt, frustrated, or misinformed.  In any of these cases, it will not be anger that is appropriate.

A physical analogy is that, if you only have a hammer, you need to hang a picture and you can only find a screw, you pound the screw into the wall. Yes, it works.  But, a screw driver would be both more efficient and more effective.

Let’s introduce you to your emotional tools.

Emotions and Evolution

Our emotions have evolved over the millennia to both inform us about how we perceive our surroundings and motivate us to take effective action.

These are two independent functions of emotions: inform and motivate.

Emotions as Information

Each emotion provides you with useful (although not always accurate) information about how you perceive the world around you.  This is the message of the emotion.

The message of positive emotions such as glad (or happy) is that you perceive what you are doing as a situation in which you want to stay.

The message of negative emotions is that you perceive some sort of “threat” that could harm you.

Anxiety is an example of a (so-called) negative emotion because it doesn’t feel good when we are anxious.

I got anxious when my wife went into labor with our first child.

Anxiety is a future based emotion, the message of which is that there may be a threat out there which could be harmful.

For me, the message was that my wife needed to be in a hospital before the baby arrived just in case.

Understanding the emotion.

Anxiety is an interesting emotion in that it has two faces and a flip side.

The two faces of anxiety are eustress and distress.

Distress is the most common form of anxiety.  The message of distress is that the possible threat is real, it will harm me, and I must avoid it.

There is always the possibility that the perceived threat isn’t as disastrous as it appears.

Have you ever anticipated a response from another person about some subject only to be surprised when that individual either didn’t react the way you expected or wasn’t even aware that a problem existed.

There is a commercial for Discover credit card in which the customer practices refusing to pay any fees and anticipates a negative response from the credit card “operator”only to find out, when he contacts Discover Cards, that no fees are ever charged.  In other words, the customer in the ad was nervous about, and over-prepared himself to handle, a situation that never existed.

Or, think about the time you may have gotten all nervous about asking someone out on a date, or your boss for a raise, and prepared yourself for all the things that could go wrong only to be surprised when she said “yes”.

Eustress is the other face of anxiety. The message of eustress is that the possible threat is real and that action must be taken to prepare for the threat so that it can be eliminated.

Eustress motivates you to prepare for possible “threats” that do exist.  An example is studying for an upcoming exam so you don’t “fail” it.

In the language of positive and negative emotions, anxiety would be a negative emotion because it feels uncomfortable and anticipation would be a positive emotion because it feels great. Both anxiety and anticipation are adaptive in that they help us improve our lives.

The emotion of anger can be understood in the same way.

As an emotion, anger is very powerful.  It is a tool just like a car that you can learn to master.  The message of anger is that you perceive a threat you believe you can eliminate if you throw enough force at it.

Rage looks like anger on steroids but is more like travelling too fast on an icy road.

Anger can help you make better decisions.  Rage is out of control.

Different, and often less potent, faces of anger include irritation, annoyance, frustration, resentment, exasperated, indignation.

So, let’s go back to construction tools.  If you see a screw  with a “slot” in it, you know you need a Flathead screwdriver.  If  the screw has a “+” on it, you need a Phillips head screw driver.

Similarly, if you are angry, you know that you perceive a threat that you believe you can eliminate if you throw enough force at it.

This doesn’t mean, however, that the threat actually exists, only that you perceive it to exist.

What you do with the anger depends on how familiar you are with anger as a tool. Is it anger or one of anger’s cousins such as annoyance, resentment, etc?

The more emotional tools you have, the more specific you can be in how you use your tools to interact with your surroundings.

Positive and Negative Emotions ( a clarification)

I’ve referred to positive and negative emotions above because that is how most people view emotions. However, I don’t like to label emotions as positive or negative because these labels imply that some emotions (the negative ones) should be eliminated (think negative evaluation at work) and others (the positive ones) should be pursued.

In fact, there are no positive or negative emotions as all emotions are adaptive (useful when understood) as sources of information and motivation. There are, however, emotions that feel good (the  so-called “positive” ones) and  emotions that do not feel good (the so-called “negative” ones).

The labels of positive and negative describe the hedonic quality of the emotion not its value or importance.

Emotions as Motivation

Anxiety, as distress, motivates us to avoid public speaking, leads us to avoid asking someone out on a date, keeps us in situations we don’t like because we might not do any better, and can lead us to procrastinate.

Anxiety as eustress motivated me to take my wife to the hospital and gives my students the motivation they need to study for their exams.

Anger prepares you for battle.

Positive emotions motivate us to continue doing what we are doing.

The main point here is that emotions alert us to our surroundings and motivate us to take action.

Motivation is not the same as coercion.

While our emotions move or lead us in a certain direction, we have a choice about what action we will take.

It is at the intersection between emotions and logic that all the benefits of emotions come out.

Learning to master this interaction could be very useful and is the basis for my recommendation that we need more (well mastered) emotions.

Think about any important decision you’ve recently made.  If the decision required background information to help you draw a conclusion, the more accurate information you had, the better would be the resultant decision.

Two words are important here: more and accurate.

Your emotions give you a lot of information about how you perceive your surroundings.  You may perceive a threat you want to eliminate or prepare for.  Or, you  perceive a situation you want to experience more of.

Emotions inform and motivate.

They do not choose.

The more information you have about a situation in which you find yourself, the more opportunities you have to evaluate and assess the information and choose how you want to respond.

Emotions inform logic.

It is logic that evaluates and chooses a response.

Think about the above discussion regarding anxiety.

My anxiety informed me about a possible future event that needed my attention.  Had my wife been experiencing some mild discomfort, I would not have been anxious. I got anxious and I was motivated to take some action. The action I took was to (safely) run a red light.  When I did this, a cop pulled me over. I informed him about my wife and told him that he could follow me to the hospital (about 3 blocks away) and, once my wife was taken care of, I would comply with whatever decision he chose to make.  By the way, he followed me to the hospital, checked my licence, registration and insurance and wished me good luck.   I would not have gone through the red light or put off the cop without my anxiety.

An alternative approach could have involved my getting angry with the cop for pulling me over and “preventing” me from getting to the hospital.

Had I been angry, my interaction with the cop would have been very different.

With people facing an upcoming interview, a test, or a project about which they have some concern, their anxiety may motivate them to procrastinate and avoid the future event.

Whether we choose to avoid the event or prepare to effectively deal with it is always a choice.

So, given my belief that more relevant information is better than less, I am recommending a world in which we both validate and acknowledge all of our emotions so that we are open to the information they provide us about our surroundings.

More emotions lead to more involvement and possibly more effective interactions with others.

In addition, I am recommending that we more effectively use our logic or intellect to help us choose the best course of action to improve our lives and our relationships.

Using my emotions and my intellect together allows me to inform you that I don’t like what you are doing and to interact with you so that we, together, can come up with a way to resolve whatever issue has come up between us.

I am not saying that more emotions and logical evaluations will end the types of behaviors we have recently witnessed. If a perpetrator of an undeniably bad event is “perfectly sane”and has chosen to both give in to his emotion and use his logic to justify what he is feeling, emotion is not the issue.  His belief systems and  model of the world need to be explored.

For others, however, using their emotions as a source of information to be logically evaluated could lead to better decisions and less negative behavior.  It is these people that I believe would benefit from more emotions.

I welcome your comments.

Love Mac and Cheese (LMAC): 4 Steps to Mastering Anger

As a regular reader of this blog, you know that I have written extensively about using all emotions as tools and about specific emotions such as anxiety and anger.  Of all the emotions, I have focused most of my posts on mastering anger as it seems that many people do not understand what anger is and seem to blame anger for any problematic behavior that anger appears to elicit.

As most of the literature focuses on managing anger, which involves controlling the emotion and is often unsuccessful, I have chosen to go a step further and emphasize mastering anger as a tool.

With this in mind, in this post, I am offering a way to remember the process of mastering your anger. Everyone is familiar with macaroni and cheese either as a kid or as an adult.

So, if you can recall macaroni and cheese, you can remember the four steps to mastering your anger using Love Mac And Cheese (LMAC) as a mnemonic devise.

Anger Mastery-Simplified (managing vs mastering anger)

  • Management => Controlling Anger
  • Mastery => Using Anger as a Tool

Remember that anger management involves lowering your arousal level and controlling your anger while mastering your anger allows you to use your anger as a tool to improve your life and your relationships.

Anger mastery involves:

  • validating the emotion and knowing that you are angry,
  • initially managing your anger by controlling your arousal,
  • mastering your anger by assessing the situation and
  • choosing an appropriate response to effectively deal with the situation.


 The 4 steps to Mastering Your Anger:  LMAC  (Love Mac And Cheese):

The 4 Steps to Mastering Anger are:

  1. (L)  Label the emotion,
  2. (M) Make a safe space.
  3.  (A)  Assess the situation
  4.  (C)  Choose an effective response and do it.

Step #1: Label the emotion

All emotions start with an unconscious reaction to a situation.

When we lived in caves, we were constantly on the alert for threats that would kill us. As all threats were both real and dangerous, we evolved a process which would continuously and subconsciously scan our surroundings for any threat.  When our subconscious scan picked up a threat, our bodies automatically went into fight/flight/freeze.  We were on alert and ready to act.

Again, back then, ALL threats were survival based so this automatic process was both efficient and effective.

As we fast-forward today, the problem is two-fold.

  • First, most of the threats we now face on a regular basis are psychological (not survival) based.
  • Second, and perhaps more importantly, while we, as a species, have evolved in many ways, the automatic alert process that operates subconsciously has not evolved.

Emotionally, this plays out this way….

Anger is one of 3 primitive survival- based threat detectors. The other two are fear and disgust.  These primitive threat detectors are designed to set us up for flight or fight.

Other emotions such as anxiety, pride, and jealousy have evolved to denote psychological threats.

The issue is that the primitive part of our brains reacts to any threat today just as it did eons ago.

To the  primitive part of our brain…

Threat=Danger=Red Alert.

Each emotion alerts us to a situation we are facing and prepares us for action.

As we initially experience all emotions physically, the first step in mastering anger is to be able to identify how your body tells you that you are angry and to label that emotion as anger (as opposed to hurt, jealousy, etc.)

There are two possibilities here:

  1. Your initial assessment is accurate and there is a real threat.
  2. Your initial perception of the threat is not accurate and the emotion you are experiencing doesn’t match the situation you are facing.

Hence, the need for Step 2.

Step #2: Make a Safe Space.

Whether you are accurate in your initial assessment of the threat or not, it is important that you create some “space” between you and the threat.

Step #2 calls for creating both a physical and a psychological safe space.

Physical safety.

The message of anger is that you perceive a threat that you believe you can eliminate if you throw enough force at it.  You are ready for WAR.

If you are facing a physical threat, taking a step back creates some space between you and the threat.

This can communicate that you are willing to defend yourself or it can  communicate to another person that you might not be the threat they initially perceived.

Psychological safety.

By taking a deep breath, you automatically reduce your level of emotional arousal.  Lowering your physiological arousal allows you to engage the thinking part of your brain (the cerebral cortex) and makes you better prepared to make logical decisions.

This sets you up for Step #3.

Step #3:  Assess the situation

You will need the thinking part of your brain to help you BOTH assess what is really going on in your situation and to decide the most effective action to take to resolve what is taking place.


You have have an opportunity to determine whether your initial assessment of risk was accurate or that you misjudged the situation for reasons including:

  • You initially looked at the interaction through the biased lens of some prior experience.
  • You misjudged the other person’s actions because what they did was ambiguous.
  • They misjudged you and your intent.


If you decide based on new information that your initial assessment was not accurate, you can change how you view what is happening.  When you do this, what you feel will also change.

If your initial assessment of risk was accurate and the emotion you are experiencing is preparing you for effective action, your thinking  brain will help you choose the best course of action to take.

With anger, the threat is real.

But, it may be more effective to talk rather than to attack.

You are now ready for Step #4.

Step#4: Choose an effective response and do it.

Once you have accurately matched to and validated your emotion within the situation, you are now ready to engage the thinking part of your brain to choose the most effective response to the threat and to use the energy of your anger to execute the action you have chosen to deal with the “perceived” threat.

This might involve:

  • Further engaging the other person by talking to them
  • Attacking them
  • Apologizing for any misunderstanding
  • Disengaging by walking away

Remember that the job of your anger, as a tool, is to..

  1. alert you to a possible threat.
  2. prepare you to deal with the threat  and
  3. give you the energy to take effective action.

LMAC reminds you of the four steps you need to take to master your anger as an emotional tool.

Learning to effectively implement these steps takes time and is NOT easy.  It is, however, DOABLE with practice.

I welcome your comments.