How to be Angry (But Not Negative)

By: Jim Murphy

“Do you want him angry?” he was asked. Roach said, “No, I don’t want him angry. We have a plan—I want him to follow the plan.” – Freddie Roach, legendary boxing trainer, after being asked if his pupil Oscar De La Hoya was getting angry with his opponent’s verbal jabs before a fight.


  • Anger is a powerful emotion, that like fire, can help you or hurt you. 
  • There’s a big difference between anger, frustration, and negativity.
  • Anger can wake you up and get you back on track (when used well), but negativity and frustration can quickly derail your efforts.

“I’ve played with Tiger (Woods) a lot, and I’ve seen him angry a lot, but I’ve never seen him get negative.”
– PGA Tour player (currently top 10 in the world)

In my experience coaching professional athletes for the past decade (or two!), I’ve seen a lot of the best athletes in the world get angry in the middle of performance. I’ve also seen a lot of different outcomes from that anger, from a kickstart to playing really well, to a downward spiral. 

Here’s the key: anger is like fire; it’s energized emotion that demands action. Anger is a powerful energy (just like fear and joy), and when it’s focused on the right thing, it can really boost performance. However, for the unpracticed, anger can latch us onto the past, on something we didn’t like but can’t let go of. This is the path towards negativity and frustration.

Negativity and anger are quite different. Anger can spark a change for the positive, while negativity always pulls us down.

“It’s not positive thinking that’s the game-changer in the sports world, it’s the absence of negative thinking.”
– Trevor Moawad, mental conditioning coach to NFL QB Russell Wilson and other superstars

So is it possible to be angry and not negative? Yes. Here’s three ways you can put anger to good use:

  1. Stay connected to the vision
    • Your long-term vision is so important to your daily life and performance. Lose connection to the vision and anger can quickly lead to negativity and frustration. Stay connected to the vision (of who you want to become and how you want to feel) and when things don’t go your way, you can get angry and use it to kickstart your performance. 
  2. Use your Inner Excellence tools
    • I expect… nothing (see p. 131 in Ch. 6 of Inner Excellence)
      • “I expect…” on inhale (long, slow, deep, gentle nasal breath) “nothing” on exhale.
      • See Jerry Seinfeld’s mindset in the resources below.

    3. Redefine success to things that inspire growth.
Inner Excellence changes success from the outcome (not in our full control), to the process of becoming the type of person who is successful. Here’s the 4 daily goals:

            1. Give it your best shot
            2. Be present
            3. Be grateful
            4. Focus on your routines and only what you can control

Anger can be, and at times should be, a powerful tool in your tool box. So… what’s helped or hurt YOU when it comes to anger and fueling a positive fire?

Love Jim

“The data shows that negative thinking is 4-7x more powerful than positivity. Saying it out loud is 10x more powerful than if you just think it. That makes it 40-70x more powerful if you say something negative out loud.”
– Trevor Moawad 

Trevor Moawad discusses the power of negative thinking and how it impacts us: (34:22)

Bill Buckner, MLB all-star, verbalizes the fear of letting a ball go through his legs to lose the World Series, weeks before it happened: (:13)

More on the Buckner story: (9:46)

Jerry Seinfeld, on the mindset he had starting his career:
“I thought OMG, I want to do that. But what if I can’t? What if I’m not funny? I remember thinking, well I wouldn’t have to be that funny anyway. I just have to be funny enough to buy a loaf of Wonder Bread and jar of Skippy peanut butter a week. I could easily survive on that. It was all I ate at my parents’ house anyway. Even if it was all I had, it would be a better life than any I could envision. I was more than happy to accept being a not-that-funny comedian over any other conceivable option. Without realizing it, this attitude is the exact right way to start out in the world of comedy. Expect nothing… accept anything.”

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