Can We Use Anger as Motivation to Reach Our Goals? Science Says Yes—Here’s How to Unleash It Safely

UPDATED: February 18, 2024
PUBLISHED: February 18, 2024
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It turns out that happy, positive emotions aren’t the only ones worth expressing. Anger’s inner heat can be proactive, fueling you into an action-minded headspace. According to a groundbreaking new study published by the American Psychological Association, anger can be turned into powerful motivation to help you accomplish your most difficult goals.

Researchers conducted a series of experiments on 1,000 participants and surveyed data from 1,400 more. Findings showed the majority of subjects were able to use anger as motivation to intensify drive and determination to successfully reach a specific goal. It’s interesting to note it didn’t work with simple tasks, only more challenging ones.

Keep in mind, there are three types of anger, each with their own outcome: 

  • Passive aggression: where you hold back your feelings of anger, causing them to manifest in not so subtle ways
  • Open aggression: a reactive, confrontational expression of anger
  • Assertive anger: when you let your angry feelings be known in a clear and healthier way

How to turn anger into motivation to realize your goals

Channeling hostility in a productive direction can be a tricky piece of the emotional puzzle to fit in its place. Here are our best tips on how to use anger as a motivator responsibly.

Use shadow work and mindfulness to explore your anger

Instead of letting emotions control you, make a conscious effort to honor them as they arise. Founder of analytical psychology, psychiatrist Carl Jung’s theory of the shadow self revolves around the concept that behind one’s public persona, each of us has another private identity composed of hidden aspects, such as anger, fear or shame.

Shadow work is a “powerful and healthy therapeutic approach to deeply explore the unconscious parts of anger or underlying emotions,” says Babita Spinelli, licensed psychotherapist and certified coach. She adds, “Shadow work can help you develop strategies to manage anger constructively without suppressing it.” 

Widen your focus. Allow yourself to tune into your sensations and feelings. Spinelli explains that physical manifestations in your body offer potential insight about anger and other emotional states. She recommends pausing from head to toe, noticing how each part of your body feels. Often, your body will clue you in to your shadow aspects. Be aware of sensations such as tension, and ask yourself, “What might they be telling you?” 

Align emotions and goals to channel motivational anger

Targeted journaling can be a profound tool for understanding your shadow, also determining action steps to turn anger into motivation. For an extra mental boost, write by hand instead of a keyboard, as research shows cursive engages certain areas of the brain involved in memory. Try the practice before bedtime, when your mind is more open and receptive to suggestions, allowing them to merge with your subconscious during sleep. 

To work through emotions, Spinelli suggests reflecting and writing about your feelings of anger or emotionally charged reactions. Notice possible triggers and patterns to help identify underlying fears and/or beliefs. 

Spinelli recommends asking yourself the following writing prompts:

  • What emotions am I presently experiencing? 
  • How are these emotions in my life lining up or not? 
  • What actions can I take to help me reach my goals? 
  • Are my goals aligned with my personal values? 

Spinelli believes in “digestible goals” and the importance of celebrating each one along the journey. So if you use anger as motivation to achieve a goal safely, reward yourself.

Try creative visualizations to use anger as motivation

Use the power of your mind to develop a new relationship with anger, altering it from a bad emotion that distracts you to motivation.

“Close your eyes and envision a place that has brought you a feeling of calmness, peace and safety, or an entirely new space,” instructs Spinelli. She also suggests you should imagine yourself meeting the shadow part as another self who embodies your anger. 

Spinelli explains that another way to use your mental energy as a motivational tool is by “imagining achieving one of your goals.” Include as much sensory detail as possible. Notice sensations, along with any emotions that surface, however subtle. 

Start a dialogue with your anger and fear

Take visualizing a step further and interact with your anger in this safe space. Having a conversation with this side helps grow connection, understanding and acceptance of this aspect of your nature.

Embrace your curiosity. Freely ask questions pertaining to anger and your goals. Listening will help you develop self-empathy and the insight to develop coping mechanisms targeted toward your innermost thoughts, fears and beliefs, says Spinelli. 

Do the same with your fear. “Dialogue with it and use the visualization technique to meet the embodiment of fear,” says Spinelli.

Try this anger release exercise to turn anger into motivation

According to marriage and family therapist, yoga and meditation teacher, Connie Habash, anger is a powerful emotion that wants to move, thus why motivational anger is so powerful. Therefore, strong actions that get your body involved are helpful. Habash recommends a breathing exercise called, The Woodchopper, to release pent up resentment, rage or frustration through a forceful exhale paired with a strong action.

Habash’s instructions:

  1. Stand with feet hip-distance apart, or a little wider. Leave some space between your feet and legs, but not too much. Interlace your fingers in front of you. 
  2. As you inhale, raise your hands and arms overhead, as if raising an ax. On the exhalation, bend your knees and swiftly bend forward from the hips while swinging the clasped hands down and through the space between your legs. Keeping the knees bent helps protect the lower back.
  3. Inhale and rise up with your torso and arms; repeat the action as you exhale. It helps to make a loud sound (like “Ha!”) as you swing your arms down. It usually feels good to let it out loudly. Feel and imagine anger releasing out as you bring that ax down.

Repeat three times, then rest. That may be enough for the day, but you’re welcome to repeat it again if you feel you have more energy to release.  

Note: Be sure you are healthy for exercise. Refrain from any physical movements that cause discomfort, especially if you have a tendency toward back pain. Always check with your doctor if you’re unsure what’s safe for you.  

Motivational anger to empower change

Anger can be so intense, it actually makes you vibrate from its adrenaline rush. It can also be healthy and even inspiring, propelling you in exciting new directions that may have previously seemed impossible. Taking time to understand your emotions allows you to align your goals and feelings, and turn anger into motivation.

Instead of being reactive, utilize clarity and focus so you can choose to use anger as a catalyst, energizing you to create positive changes in your life. So, consider what you’d like to shift or transform, advises Habash.

Photo by Gorodenkoff/