I’ve been reading and reflecting about the relationship between anger and entrepreneurship lately as it’s one of those primal emotions that drives me, and my environment keeps reminding me that “anger is a slow killer”. I can relate on why they might say that. But is anger a slow killer? What do they mean by anger? Why is it wrong? Under which circumstances? How do they even know how I feel? What to do about it?
“The angry man is aiming at what he can attain, and the belief that you will attain your aim is pleasant.” ~Aristotle in 350 BC(Rethoric)
That statement resonates with me. As a founder, I know that my vision is happening, but I’m frustrated daily about events that could stop me from achieving my goals. Obstacles in society, in business, and private life. I don’t believe too much in “go with the flow”. Instead, I wake up every day with the same feeling: “it’s war out there; bring it on!” I believe innovation comes from frustration.
My frustration can lead to anger if something beyond my control keeps on blocking me, but that hardly ever happens. Most experts agree on the definition of anger: “Anger becomes the predominant feeling behaviourally, cognitively, and physiologically when a person makes the conscious choice to take action to stop the threatening behaviour of another outside force immediately.“
What anger does to your body
All my gurus and healers say that anger is destructive to your health. “Continuous anger is not healthy; occasional anger is fine as long as there’s recovery time”. Ok, I get that, but my anger is not continuous; my frustration is. Same thing?
“We can exhaust our bodies with anger, leading to weaker immune systems. And a weaker immune system means a greater risk of becoming sick. So, yes, unresolved or continuous anger can lead to you becoming ill more often. It can also lead to higher blood pressure, gastritis, and migraines.” I experienced none of the latter, but my immune system was under pressure last year, so let’s dig further.
- Although anger feels like a big dominant emotion for most people. In psychology, it is often viewed as a secondary emotion. This means that anger is an easily accessed and primal response while behind it are the true triggering emotions such as frustration, abandonment, loneliness, and loss. But they are not the only triggers according to experts: losing your patience, feeling as if your opinion or efforts aren’t appreciated, and injustice can also trigger it. Ok, I got all of those triggers in the past year.
- As a biological response, anger releases vast amounts of cortisol and adrenaline into the bloodstream, which interfere with the body’s ability to heal itself over the long term. I’m indeed an adrenaline junky. When I feel that I’m too relaxed, I will even create stress.
- Occasional anger is acceptable for the body—as long as there is a recovery time for the body to clear itself of cortisol and adrenaline. Constant and building anger are detrimental to the body and often are ignored because a person has become accustomed to living in a toxic and over-stimulated environment. Ok, over-stimulation is my thing.
Holding on to anger?
Before I make a change, I like to look at the data. Not so easy to gather and combine data in this particular case. Experts tested my body and mind a year ago with very advanced methods. They concluded it was not in the best shape ever. Not everything was terrible, but my body was very acidic and let’s say my central nervous system was under constant pressure with low recovery levels.
Looking at all the changes I went through in only one year; it was no surprise. Frustration, abandonment, loneliness, and loss were all there simultaneously. And yes, I lose energy when my efforts are not appreciated, and injustice drives me crazy. And yes, I tend to over-stimulate my mind.
I decided not to ignore the signals because I believed the experts who said it could indeed lead to serious health conditions. Was it anger, stress, frustration, anxiety, loneliness, loss, patience, lack of respect…? The data couldn’t tell as it’s still a wicked problem. I changed my habits on many fronts overnight, hoping for the best. To name a few:
- I changed my eating habits.
- I started doing competitive sports again.
- I decided not to become frustrated about events I can not control.
- I avoided discussions on world events.
- I improved my sleeping quality further.
- I lowered alcohol consumption.
- I started stretching.
- I increased my curiosity through social contacts with positive people from different cultures in a positive environment.
On top of the things I already did well. I should do the test again, but I feel my body is reacting well, although it’s still a work in progress. However, I don’t think my constant frustration will ever go away, and I’m not sure I want it to go away, because it also defines who I am and fuels me.
Anger about society
I’ve realised that my biggest frustrations that turned into anger come from the current shifts in society. The anger comes because of the lack of “control”. Never before those shifts had such an impact on me. The killer virus, the upcoming stagflation, the new religion of science, the media circus, the social credit systems, the stupidity of the crowd, the lack of striving for excellence and all those ridiculous wars are creating a society I don’t particularly like. They all impacted my business, and I can’t control them.
My main concern is to see how people react to these events. In the beginning, I tried to share my opinions in a surreal Belgian way, hoping to open people’s minds by laughing about it. Still I noticed how a fearful majority didn’t react well when you questioned “the main narrative”. The polarisation is unseen and worrying. I didn’t want to create negative energy amongst my relations, resulting in me not willing to discuss my thoughts and feelings anymore.
I discovered the interviews and the book of Mathias Desmet about “The Psychology of Totalitarianism“, which kept me sane. I can’t control what’s going on, so I moved to an a-political, exciting world in the UAE and decided that my frustration is all about a global leadership crisis with the West in decline and power shifting to the region of the Indian Ocean, like Kaplan predicted in 2010. I hope that Web 3.0 and DAOs will lead us to the new world order.
I find my peace in telling myself it is a big social experiment which is super interesting to watch from a distance. It helps me to understand better the dynamics of “engagement”, which is what the Herculean Alliance is all about.
Anger in the business world
In the business world, anger is often viewed as one of the most unsavoury of emotions. Especially in corporate environments. “It can hinder your thought process and lead to rash, impulsive decisions that will most likely result in regrettable outcomes.”
However, according to research conducted by Henry Evans and Colm Foster, 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.
Based on my own experience, I agree with Neil Patel’s article in Forbes, that anger can have benefits:
- Achieve hyper-focus
- Eliminate fear
- Boost confidence
- Take action
- Ignite your passion
- Be more perseverant
- Show your humanness
- Provide self-insight
I’ve experienced it myself during my corporate life. I’ve worked in insurance and manufacturing in the ’90s, where emotions were “not done”. When I worked at Telindus, I experienced how emotions can be used as a strategic advantage if managed in the right way. It was the period when EQ started to become a thing in business. Later came SQ. Telindus was an environment full of male engineers, so it taught me it’s not about education or gender. It’s about leadership, culture, relationships, and being human. After the hostile take-over from Belgacom, the government-owned incumbent telco, emotions became a bad thing again, resulting in the whole Telindus value (600mil EUR) dissolving in months as the key people left and the culture was killed.
Anger in my team
In my mind, I have a lot of patience, but that’s because I tend to see future obstacles sooner. Timing is crucial, and you don’t want to overwhelm your team with all the obstacles you already see. It would kill their morale. Some of those threats might not even happen because you have taken small steps today. Theory of Constraints school raised me, so I only focus on the most significant bottleneck first, today.
I have daily conversations in my head with my team and warn them about the upcoming obstacles in different ways because I believe in the power of brain waves. It helps me to really understand the problems as people talk back to me in my mind. These conversations happen days, weeks, and sometimes months before the obstacle occurs. They also tackle the emotional discussions that could take place if you would immediately tell them in their face, without reflection. My feedback becomes milder because of it.
My team knows me because I communicate openly about how I feel. My blog is a very small example of that. I try to avoid surprises, and I believe it’s one of the three key elements to building a breakthrough team. 95% of my frustration isn’t articulated as “anger”, but sometimes there’s no other way. I mainly use humour, questions, repetition, storytelling, cheers, passion… as ways to overcome obstacles. I have a loud voice, love speaking for large crowds, love to teach, and I’m passionate about what I do. Don’t confuse that with anger! I’m sure that if you would ask my hero Mourinho, he would agree with me 😉 When I count the number of times I’m really angry in business, it’s maybe once or twice a year. At that moment, I will leave the meeting table immediately to avoid damage.
When I start showing frustration about something, my team knows that I care, that I thought about it for a long time, that I’m running out of patience and that I want to help them remove an obstacle. It’s never personal. It’s not always easy for people at first, especially when they still don’t “see” the barrier yet. When they realise that I’m much harder on myself than on them and that I show my frustration to help them become a better version of themselves, they start to understand the value of my behaviour.
So I keep telling myself: imagine I wouldn’t be frustrated anymore; I believe the business will suffer because of it.
Anger in private life
In my case, family and business are strongly intertwined, so obviously, my frustrations can lead to frustration within the family, and vice versa, frustrations within the family can affect business. However, the latter is scarce.
My family can read me as no one else can. My family is also super small. Three kids, my wife, my parents and my family in law are basically all I have. What makes it even more challenging is that they were also confronted with their own frustrations the past year and me moving here was definitely one of their frustrations. Everybody is fighting their own battle, so you don’t want to bother them too much with yours.
The good thing about families: you can get angry and makeup within the day. I married a French fury, and before I met her, I NEVER had a fight. I now know that that is very unhealthy. She taught me how to fight, because it could drive me mad for a week or more, which is unhealty. Does this mean I like to fight? No, I still don’t like it at all, but I see it as a growth opportunity.
And what about friends? I’ve learned not to trust them when it comes to sharing deep emotions. I have one friend who’s like the brother I never had. But again, you don’t want to bother them with your struggles because it’s virtually impossible for them to relate. On the other hand, friends from all sorts of cultures are perfect for me to decompress by being curious about their beliefs and by focusing the mind on something other than business.
Disclaimer: When you read this article until the end, it sounds like I only use frustration and anger as fuel. That’s not true at all, but you can’t make a point about anger if you involve all the other emotions, right 😉 Maybe I’ll talk about happiness in a next post. Here’s already some great inspiration where Tal Ben-Shahar speaks about frustration as fuel for happiness. Hardship is inevitable, what we do with it is our own choice.