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How to Use Your Negative Emotions to Upgrade Your Life

“Your soul knows you’re on the wrong path even if you yourself cannot find the words to express the root of your meh.” -Neil Patel

Most people aren’t their best selves right now.

They are distracted and derailed by negativity, confusion, anger, and resentment. This leads to a profound lack of focus, which always leads to poor choices and mediocre results. This is why so many people only lead “good” lives instead of great ones.

But most people never learn how to break this cycle and use their obstacles to learn new behaviors and upgrade their life. Sadly, many people will continue this bad behavior and remain in mediocrity for years to come.

Growing up, I was a total pushover. Often, my only response to my bullies was silent, seething resentment. They say resentment is like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies; my constant IV-drip of resentment left me perpetually angry, afraid, and unfocused. My grades, relationships, and health suffered.

Sadly, this is how many people still live.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. After years of therapy, counseling, and hundreds of 12-step meetings, I learned how to avoid spiraling into unproductive negativity.

Evolving into your best self doesn’t happen quickly. But as motivational speaker Jim Rohn once said:

“You can’t change your destination overnight, but you can change your direction overnight.”

Here’s how to use your negative emotions as extremely powerful fuel to elevate your focus, behaviors, and life.

If You Want to Have More, Use Your Obstacles to Become More

“Within every obstacle is a chance to improve our condition.” Ryan Holiday, The Obstacle is the Way

A while back, I started experiencing a lot of anxiety, even some panic attacks.

This was completely new to me. My whole life, I’ve never had anything I could call a panic attack. But just like that, my wife and I were watching an intense movie, and it happened.

My heart started racing. Hot beads of sweat broke out on my forehead. I started shaking a bit. My mind slipped into full red-alert mode. I tried to play it cool, but I thought I was going to die.

I wasn’t sure sure why this was happening. Frankly, I just tried to ignore it or numb it through lots of coffee (great idea, right?), alcohol, or TV. I thought that by ignoring it, it would go away.

This is how a lot of people approach a problem; ignore it, pretend it’s not there. Maybe it’ll go away. Throw in some bingeing on TV or alcohol for good measure.

But if you want to upgrade your life and behaviors, you need to become more. You become more by using bad things for good results.

In his book, The Obstacle is the Way, author Ryan Holiday wrote:

“Bad things are fuel. You don’t just want fuel — you need it. You can’t go anywhere without it.”

I’ve been shifting my mindset to actually be grateful for this anxiety and use it to improve. Instead of complaining about it, I’ve been focusing on using it as an opportunity for me to become a more patient, focused, tranquil person.

It might sound silly to you. It does to me sometimes.

But I am genuinely grateful for this condition. Don’t get me wrong, it profoundly sucks to feel sudden nauseating terror during a random car ride — but now I can relate to others who struggle with this. My eyes are opened. I confronted an obstacle most people try to ignore, and now I’m using it to become more.

In the words of best-selling author Mark Manson:

“Suffering through your fears and anxieties are what allows you to build courage and perseverance.” -Mark Manson

If you want to achieve more and have a better life, you need to become more.

You become more by using bad circumstances for good results.

Not many have this attitude. Those that do will experience the most tranquility, focus, and confidence.

“For you, every setback is an advantage, an opportunity for learning and glory. When a difficulty comes your way, you should feel proud and excited, like ‘a wrestler whom God, like a trainer, has paired with a tough young buck.’” -Elif Batuman

Most People Ignore The Powerful Fuel of Negative Emotions

“Negative emotions are a call to action. When you feel them, you’re supposed to do something. Positive emotions, on the other hand, are rewards for taking the proper action.” -Mark Manson

When most people feel bad — sad, angry, lonely, tired, empty — they tend to avoid it. They attempt to numb the pain, not confront it.

The other day, I was feeling pretty crappy. Didn’t sleep well, was worried about some tech issues with my blog, didn’t have breakfast. A lunch at the airport McDonald’s didn’t help.

I was slowly descending the escalator to my terminal, looking at all the different stores that might make me feel good — alcohol at the the bar? Caffeine from the coffee shop? A bag of chips from the convenience store?

I was looking to escape the pain, ignoring the enormous fuel offered by the negativity.

Negative emotions are a call to action. They are a signal from your body that something is out-of-whack and needs to be addressed: your diet, your sleep, your behaviors, your relationships, even your worldview.

Most people ignore these emotions. The pain and discomfort is too painful, so they take huge actions to numb it. But avoiding it only makes it worse.

“Avoidance of suffering is a form of suffering. The avoidance of struggle is a struggle. The avoidance of failure is a failure.” -Mark Manson

I almost did ignored my emotions again. But instead of consuming “something” to try and feel better, I decided to not consume anything at all — instead, I sat down and took a mental inventory. I asked myself the difficult questions that always produce positive results:

  • Why am I feeling bad?

  • Where is this emotion coming from?

  • What do I need to do to address this?

  • How can I use this to become better?

The only result from asking these questions is a positive one.

When you start using the precious fuel from your negative emotions (instead of ignoring it), you begin evolving rapidly.

Your mindset changes. You begin seeing obstacles as opportunities, not annoying setbacks. You immediately separate yourself from what author Hal Elrod calls the “Mediocre Majority,” the masses who choose to ignore their problems instead of using them to upgrade.

Don’t waste the fuel — use the fuel to become better.

“Try to take away one learning experience from every experience, good or bad. Just one. They add up.” -James Altucher

If You Want to Upgrade Your Emotions, You Need to Upgrade Your Environment First

“If we do not create and control our environment, our environment creates and controls us.” -Marshall Goldsmith

Using difficult obstacles to achieve positive results is hard enough; it’s nearly impossible in a negative environment.

If you don’t control your environment, it will control you.

Very few people have taken the time and effort to design their environment and set themselves up to attract success. In most cases, people are living in an environment where their life is controlled by other people and obligations.

As former editor of SUCCESS Magazine Darren Hardy once wrote:

“Most people drift through life without devoting much conscious energy to figuring out specifically what they want and what they need to do to get themselves there.”

If you want to consistently and successfully use difficult obstacles as fuel to improve, you need to design an environment that makes that possible.

Part of the process of setting up an environment that makes success possible is by first removing as many negative influences as possible. Darren Hardy also once said, “You can’t hang around negative people and expect a positive result.

Tony Robbins once famously said, “We all get what we tolerate.” If you tolerate a mediocre environment — disorganized, distracted, unfocused, and negative — that’s what your life will become.

If it’s not helping, remove it. If it doesn’t lift you up, eliminate it.

If it’s not helping you to move forward, it’s holding you back.

“If your lifestyle does not add to your healing, it will subtract from it.” -Todd Brison

In Conclusion

“Great people turn personal tragedy — really anything, everything — to their advantage.” -Ryan Holiday

Every negative emotion, every difficult obstacle, is an opportunity to improve and evolve.

Most people aren’t willing to do the hard work to use obstacles as fuel to become a better version of themselves. It requires too much energy, while cracking open a beer or watching another episode is so much easier.

But this is why most people will remain in mediocrity, with good-not-great lives. As author Jim Collins wrote, “Few people attain great lives, in large part because it is just so easy to settle for a good life.”

If you never use your negative emotions and obstacles as fuel for progress, you’ll always stay where you are.

It is only those who choose to use negative experiences for their benefit who will achieve true success and real progress in their lives.

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