Put your inner dragons to good use

Psychologist Dr Tim Lomas’s new book claims we can take back power by channelling our negative emotions, says Jenny Stallard. Here’s how...

1. Use anxiety to nail that presentation or job interview

Being nervous or worried can actually propel you to perform better, argues Tim. But, how can it do that? It’s all about finding a blend of optimistic and fatalistic thoughts (for example, best and worst case scenarios). Don’t think, ‘I’ll nail this,’ but also try not to think, ‘I’ll fail,’ either. ‘It’s about warding off complacency,’ he says. ‘If you’re nervous about a job interview, focus on why, such as being late or getting lost. Then you’ll make a plan. Try to harness it rather than letting it bite away at you.’

2. Use anger to build better friendships

Annoyed with a mate? We’ve all been there. The secret to making it a positive is the difference between feeling angry and being angry. Don’t ‘be’ angry (so don’t have a go at them), but bite the bullet and have a chat about what’s upset you. ‘If you’re feeling angry, that’s a sense that there’s something in the relationship that’s bothering you,’ says Tim. ‘If you can think about why you’re feeling that way, you can go to them and say, “I’ve been feeling bad about this happening.” It can be quite informative.’ Yes it’s hard to tell a friend they’ve upset you, but often you find you’ve got the wrong end of the stick, Tim adds. ‘There can be a misattribution going on — they’ll say they didn’t mean to imply what you’re thinking.’

3. Use envy to set life goals

Try to see a distinction between vicious envy and emulative envy. The first is a ‘hateful resentment of another person who you want to see brought down,’ says Tim. ‘The emulative type is much closer to admiration. Think about who you admire and why, and what you admire about them. For example, I admire Barack Obama, but I’m not going to be president of the United States. But I admire how he talks about his children or his oratory, things I might be able to work on. It’s admiration for motivation.’

4. Use guilt to be a nicer person

If you can remember a moment when you said ‘sorry, running late’, then felt bad, this one’s for you. Feeling guilty is fine — as long as you do something with what you’ve learned next time, explains Tim. ‘Guilt is one of the most powerful drivers of personal change,’ he says. ‘If you feel no guilt, there’s no motivation to act differently the next time. There’s a lot in psychology about “moral emotions” and anger and guilt are some of those. The key is that if there’s a sense of guilt, you can either look backwards with recrimination, or you can recognise that in most contexts, we have the chance to re-do the behaviour.’ For example, if you didn’t get a round in at the pub and feel bad? Next time, get the first round. Well if that’s not being a nicer person, we don’t know what is.

5. Use loneliness to be happier

‘For me, what’s interesting about loneliness is there’s loneliness, being alone and solitude,’ says Tim. ‘Sometimes you want to be alone.’ If you’re feeling lonely but reflect on what you enjoy about being on your own, that can tip over to solitude. ‘Around other people we put on certain faces, certain fronts,’ says Tim. ‘I think most people are familiar with the notion of having to act a particular way in front of certain people. When other people aren’t around, there’s room to be more authentic.’

The Positive Power Of Negative Emotions by Tim Lomas (Piatkus) is out now