John Eales writes for us. Is hate a good motivator?
FORMER Prime Minister Bob Hawke challenged me recently when I asked him why Australians hated the British so much. “I’m not a good person to ask that question,” he replied. “I’m not a hater. I never have been.”
Emotions can be your friend or your enemy. They can drive you to glory or to distraction. They can galvanise or confuse you. Hate is a complex emotion and one often conjured by sports coaches and business leaders alike as they attempt to drive performance against a competitor. But in isolation, and left unchecked, it can be a dangerous strategy because hate can dissipate effort as much as it can direct it.
Although he may not have ultimately distinguished himself in office, in his final speech as US President, Richard Nixon, cut to the heart of hate: “Remember, those who hate you don’t win, unless you hate them.”
The emotion of hate is often confused with the attitude of competitiveness. Hate is an emotion you invest in that takes energy, often detracting from your performance. Conversely, competitiveness is not an emotion but an attitude or a focus. Not being an emotion, it travels a different neural pathway to hate and thus bypasses the “hate circuitry” allowing decision-making remain rational based on problem solving and attainment of the goal.
The neural origins of emotions like hate are becoming clearer through technology like functional magnetic resonance imaging. In one study, neurobiologist Semir Zeki, of University College London’s Laboratory of Neurobiology, scanned the brains of 17 adults as they gazed at images of a person they professed to hate. Those images activated areas in the medial frontal gyrus, right putamen, premotor cortex and medial insula, which correspond to the so-called hate circuit.
Hatred activates areas in the frontal cortex that may be involved in evaluating another person and predicting their behaviour, potentially distracting you from the task at hand. Competitiveness, however, does not activate these same areas and so bypasses this judgment or predictive pathway. Zeki demonstrated that hate actually alters the decision-making process.
This thinking reinforces research like that from Antonio Damasio, a neuroscientist at the University of Southern California, who developed the somatic marker hypothesis (SMH), and posited that rational thinking can't be separated from feelings and emotions. In short, when emotions are involved, our thinking processes are altered, and the resulting behaviours are not always optimal.
Even when not focused on another person hate can be destructive, and it doesn’t discriminate who it consumes. I’ve sat with people who have tried to excuse average behaviour by the cover-all, “I hate losing”. I have yet to meet someone who loves it. To think that hating losing is a differentiator is delusional, even arrogant. But often the difference between high performance and otherwise is the ability to channel that hatred of losing constructively and towards competitive outcomes rather than destructively and emotionally, towards personal agendas.
And that is the essence of the difference between hate and competitiveness. Compared to hate, competitiveness is not rooted in emotion but rather based on rivalry and the attainment of a goal or prize. It draws on such qualities as determination, tenacity, resilience and adaptive problem solving for which the neural pathways are flexible and varied and not as destructive. Ultimately, executives and athletes alike must cut through their distractions and first find, and then understand, their optimal performance zone, where the right balance of stimuli and action combine to channel their best performance.
Admittedly, and thankfully, the head banging, emotion seeking, locker-room leader of the past is approaching extinction while the thinking person’s leader is on the rise. It’s not to say that passion is not important, far from it, as competitiveness channels passion every bit as much as hatred does. It just does it in a more useful manner.
In an article in the New York Times, Matt Richtel spoke about former US tennis champion, Erik van Dillen. “The emphasis on
Even when not focused on another person hate can be destructive, and it doesn’t discriminate who it consumes
competition, he told me, somewhat misses the point — even at the level of champions. The greatest players he has known and played against, he said, are problem solvers. When they play against other greats, they relish the challenge of solving a difficult problem. Winning or losing is simply a measure of whether or not they have solved the problem.”
But such a proactive approach isn’t necessarily instinctive and that’s where a healthy dose of self-awareness is important. If anyone understood the dark side of hate it was Nelson Mandela. “No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” And the best preachers always put their own best wisdom into practice.