Anger has been in the headlines a lot recently.
In rugby league we had Wigan Warriors prop Ben Flowers sent off after just two minutes of last Saturday’s Grand Final for a brutal punch on St Helens stand-off Lance Hohaia. In politics we’ve had the usual pantomime characters exploding verbally over election results on our screens, and then there were people angry with Apple for putting the new U2 album into their iTunes library. And then we’ve had John Lydon on his book tour, Anger is an Energy.
Music has always had its angry young men – from John Lennon, to Paul Weller, Joe Strummer and John Lydon – venting their social and political ideology through the power of music. Lydon, formerly known as Johnny Rotten, has been angry and sticking two fingers up to the world since 1975 when the Sex Pistols formed. He hasn’t softened with age. It’s hard to imagine how powerful a counter-cultural force Lydon and the Pistols were in the 70s, but they were perceived enough of a threat to the Establishment for them to be discussed in Parliament under the Traitors and Treason Act. Via his music and invective, Lydon has spearheaded a generation of young people to show their attitude.
With his current band, Public Image Ltd, Lydon expresses an equally urgent impulse in his make-up – the constant need to reinvent himself, to keep moving. From their beginnings in 1978 he set the ground-breaking template for a band that continues to challenge and thrive today.
He’s also found time for making innovative records with the likes of Afrika Baambaata and Leftfield. Following the release of a solo record in 1997, John took a sabbatical from his music into other media, most memorably his own Rotten TV show for VH1 and as the most outrageous contestant ever on I’m a Celebrity …Get Me Out of Here! He then fronted the Megabugs series and one-off nature documentaries and even turned his hand to a series of TV advertisements for Country Life butter.
The melancholic howl of This Is Not a Love Song, Rise and Death Disco, Public Image’s new wave tunes sound as vital as they ever did. Anger is an Energy is Lydon’s autobiography, a line from Rise, and his prose is as spikey and angry as his music, packed with defiant energy and an unwillingness to be a passive spectator to his own life. ‘To stay relevant, sometimes you need to stay angry’ seems to be his driving force.
The charismatic Lydon has been angry, wailing and ranting for years, and has remained a compelling and dynamic figure both as a musician, and, thanks to his outspoken, controversial, yet always heartfelt and honest statements, as a cultural commentator. The book is a look back on a life full of incident, from his beginnings as a poorly child of immigrant Irish parents with meningitis at seven, which took him four years to recover his lost memory, to his present status as a vibrant, alternative individual.
John’s biography is a brilliant insight into the creation of ideas. Right from the start he needed to fight his corner and he’s never stopped, and he’s never made it easy on himself, his inner anger and restlessness being raw and uncomfortable at times, and all the better reading for it. I’d recommended for anyone interested in music and ideas. Well, all I can say is. . . thanks John! This is an absolute belter of a read.
As part of his book tour, John was on Radio 5 Live with Simon Mayo, and I was entertained by his warmth, humanity, honesty and clarity of thought. Download the podcast and listen for yourself:
Bu what makes you angry? People shoving their way onto a train before you have stepped off it irritates me, or going to the fridge and finding all the crème caramel has gone just gets me every time… After a week of by-elections, most politicians are on my list too! These are just some of the things which make me angry. What about you?
There are a mountain of reasons why we lose our temper, research shows that the average person gets angry about four times a day. Anger can be expressed assertively, aggressively or in a passive-aggressive way. It rises within us when our need to be valued, respected and appreciated is threatened. The anger we feel reflects the times we live in, with ‘Twitter Trolls’ emerging in recent years, whilst in our house we have ‘bad internet connection rage’ as a new social phenomenon in the under 24s.
Strong passions, in ancient and medieval thought, were considered diseases of the soul. For the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle, all virtue was about finding a mean between two extremes, and this was as true of the passion of anger as anything else. The Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius, pointed out that the consequences of anger when acted on are almost always worse than whatever supposed wrong gave rise to it.
Anger is a powerful emotion, an energy that drives us to act. Every emotion we feel provokes physiological reactions that prepare us for a certain type of action. Fear makes us ready to flee, depression helps us save our energy, joy prepares us to welcome someone. Of all these emotions, anger is probably the most striking, and can create a decisive call to action.
Think about successful entrepreneurs, they’re passionate, but also logical and rational. In the face of opportunity, crisis or danger they remain steely-eyed focused. They don’t get angry – or at the very least they don’t show their anger. Or do they?
According to research conducted by Henry Evans and Colm Foster, emotional intelligence experts and authors of Step Up: Lead in Six Moments That Matter the highest performing people and highest performing teams tap into and express their entire spectrum of emotions, including anger, as an energy and driver of top performance. So Lydon was right!
Evans and Foster say anger is actually useful when harnessed and controlled because it fosters useful behavioural capabilities:
Anger creates focus Get mad and you tend to focus on one thing – the source of your anger. You don’t get distracted. You’re not tempted to multitask. All you can see is what’s in front of you. That degree of focus can be extremely powerful.
Anger generates confidence Get mad and the automatic rush of adrenaline heightens your senses and reduces your inhibitions. Anger, in small doses, can be the spark that gets you started.
Get mad about an action, not a person Say an employee makes a mistake. Venting by saying, ‘How could you be so stupid?’ may make you feel better – for about 10 seconds – but it certainly won’t help. Saying, ‘I’m really struggling to understand why you did that. Can we talk about it?’ Directing your frustration at the action and not the employee helps reduce feelings of defensiveness while still allowing you to express your frustration – which will help you both focus on solving the problem.
Use anger to overcome anxiety or fear When we’re nervous or scared we often later regret what we didn’t say. When you do, the rush of adrenaline will fuel anger and will help move you out of the fear zone and into a mind set where you’re excited and passionate and motivated – but not unreasonable or irrational.
So, stop trying to hide negative emotions, besides, the chances you can successfully hide how you’re feeling are slim. You may be angry and think you’re hiding it, but you’re not, everyone around you knows. So don’t pretend. Express the way you feel, but in a controlled and harnessed way. Be upset, but be intelligent while you’re upset, that way you sustain your professional relationships as you work through challenges, that way you can be your authentic self in a higher state of being.
Anger, manifesting itself as frustration, is prevalent in many start-ups. It may not always be obvious, but the combination of passion, desire, and expectation creates an environment ripe for frenzy. Most start-up schedules look like a mangled mess of meetings. Trying to maximise every minute of the day, they only leave a few minutes between each discussion to take a breath.
In this situation, when frustration boils over and anger strikes, it comes quickly. There isn’t time to anticipate the feeling, it just happens. Whether it’s a missed opportunity, a change in circumstances, or an unforeseen action by someone else, your mood quickly changes. Most entrepreneurs try to continue on with their busy schedule; they try to ignore it. They put on their best face for the remainder of the day, but the emotion continues to stir under the surface – and no matter how hard you try to find the silver lining, there just isn’t one.
When this happens, you need to stop trying to be positive and channel your anger instead. It’s exactly how sprinter Michael Johnson qualified for the 1996 Olympics in the 200m sprint event.
At the Olympic trials, Johnson was hit with a strong headwind during his semi-final heat, taking a half second off his time – a huge marginal impact. Consequently, Johnson didn’t win his heat and his time was slower than the sprinters in the first heat, so other sprinters drew the best lanes for the final. Michael drew Lane 8. Lane 8 means nothing to us does it, but it’s the worst lane possible. No Olympic Champion or World Champion has ever come from Lane 8 in a sprint to win the race.
In Lane 8 you have no room for strategy. You run the first half without even seeing your competitors. Michael had never in his life run from a Lane 8. This isn’t even the worst part. The other sprinters jumped up and down and pumped their fists when the drawings were announced. Johnson was filled with anger. But instead of letting his anger eat him alive, Johnson used it:
I let my eyes move from one opponent to the next and, for a moment, I hated every one of them. I hated them for celebrating my misfortune, but mostly I just hated them because I was about to compete against them and they were doing everything they could to make sure I didn’t succeed. The gun went off and I launched out of the blocks in a fury. I ran away from them all and won the race with a time that stood as the best in the world for four years. That day I found a deep store of power and aggression and raw competitiveness from my anger, and I’d ridden it to victory to find a joy and a thrill richer than I’d ever imagined.
Sometimes, bad stuff happens that will make you angry, and rather than internalise it you need to channel your frustration, it’s a chance to exert your force of will when the world is counting you out, just channel it into a constructive goal. Afterwards you can let go of your anger. That’s what Johnson did, using his anger as a motivating force to provide self-insight.
Anger is a vital part of that built-in ‘fight-or-flight’ response that helps you adapt to and survive challenges, personal and business. Anger is the fight component, the part that moves you to take offensive measures to defend yourself against actual or perceived threats – you get angry and suddenly you’re infused with a sense of empowerment, a feeling of strength, confidence, and competence. You’re standing straight up to the frustrations and conflicts you’ve been avoiding. There is a fire within each and every one of us, and like Michael Johnson, use it.
If your engine is fired up, get moving and get moving now. Set a list of goals or outcomes, and do not stop until you are in a more positive place. You can sort it out. You can turn anger into motivation. Keep angry to keep the energy, Get mad, and then get over it. Remember the four points from the Evans and Foster research, and remember John Lydon – anger is an energy!