This Is Why You Shouldn’t Make Decisions In Anger

In this easy-to-read, in-depth 8 minute article you will learn why you shouldn’t make decisions in anger, Barbara Fredrickson and the broaden-and-build theory, and real-world examples of how and why anger and negative, raw emotion shuts down your mind and limit the options available to you.

There was once a young boy who had a very bad uncontrollable temper. His father, one day, being the wise man that he was, decided to hand him a bag of nails and said, “every time you lose your temper, hammer one of these nails into the fence.” On the first day, the boy hammered 37 nails into the fence. As each day passed the boy gradually began to control his temper more and more and over the next few weeks, the number of nails hammered into the fence began to decrease significantly. 


The young boy found that it was easier to control his temper than to have to hammer the nails into the fence. Finally, the day came where the boy no longer lost his temper and had to hammer any nails into the fence. He told his father the news and his father suggested that he should pull out one nail a day for every day that he doesn’t lose his temper.  The days passed and young changed boy was finally able to tell his father that all the nails were officially gone. 

His father said, “great,” took him by the hand and walked with him over to the fence. He then said to him: “You have done well, my son, but look at the holes in the fence. The fence will never be the same. When you say or do things in anger, they leave a scar just like this one. You can put a knife in a man and draw it out. It won’t matter how many times you say I’m sorry, the wound is still there.”

This Is Why You Shouldn't Make Decisions In Anger

This Is Why You Shouldn’t Make Decisions In Anger

Barbara Fredrickson is a positive psychology researcher at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who published a remarkable paper that provides surprising insights into the effects of positive thinking and its direct correlation with your skills.

The Experiment 

Fredrickson tested the impact of positive emotions on the brain by setting up an experiment. She divided her research subjects into 5 groups and showed each group a different set of clips. The first two groups were shown clips that created positive emotions. Group 1 saw images that created feelings of joy and Group 2 saw images that created feelings of contentment. Similar feelings, but not the same. 

Group 3 was strictly the control group, they saw images that were neutral and produced no significant emotion. In the last two groups, Group 4 & 5 were shown clips that created negative emotions. Group 4 saw images that created feelings of fear and Group 5 saw images that created feelings of anger.

They Were Then 

After each participant saw their respective images they were then asked to imagine themselves in a situation where similar feelings would arise and write down what they would do or at least what they think they would do. The participants were then handed a piece of paper that had 20 blank lines and started with the phrase:

I would like to…”

What Happened 

The participants that saw images that invoked feelings of anger and fear wrote down the fewest responses while the participants who saw images that created feelings of joy and contentment wrote down a significantly higher number of actions that they would like to take, even when compared to the neutral group.

What Does This Show?

In other words, when you experience positive emotions such as joy, contentment, and love in your life you are much more receptive to new possibilities. “Fredrickson’s findings were among the first that proved positive emotions broaden your sense of possibility and open your mind to see more options.”


But that, however, is just the beginning. What is truly amazing is the benefits of positive thinking don’t just stop once the good feelings subside. In fact, one of the biggest benefits of positive thinking is an enhanced ability to build skills and develop resources that can be used later in life. This is what Barbara Fredrickson refers to as the “broaden-and-build theory,” and describes it as, however, in much more detail:

This Is Why You Shouldn't Make Decisions In Anger

The form and function of a subset of positive emotions, including joy, interest, contentment, and love. A key proposition is that these positive emotions broaden an individual’s momentary thought-action repertoire: joy sparks the urge to play, interest sparks the urge to explore, contentment sparks the urge to savor and integrate, and love sparks a recurring cycle of each of these urges within safe, close relationships. The broadened mindsets arising from these positive emotions are contrasted to the narrowed mindsets sparked by many negative emotions (i.e. specific action tendencies, such as attack or flee).

A second key proposition concerns the consequences of these broadened mindsets: by broadening an individual’s momentary thought-action repertoire—whether through play, exploration or similar activities—positive emotions promote discovery of novel creative actions, ideas and social bonds, which in turn build that individuals personal resources; ranging from physical and intellectual resources, social and psychological resources. Importantly, these resources function as reserves that can be drawn on later to improve the odds of successful coping and survival. 

What Does This Mean?

Positive thoughts and positive emotions as Fredrickson describes, prompts you to explore more and develop skills that will last much longer than the original emotions. Positive thinking and positive emotions open your mind to new and wonderful possibilities. Whereas, negative thinking, which produces negative emotions like fear and anger shut down your mind as your resort into survival mode. You don’t just think as well but at all. 

Examples Of The Broaden-and-Build Theory

Suppose you are walking on a trail in the mountains and suddenly a large brown Grizzly Bear steps on the path in front of you. As this happens, your brain registers a negative emotion—in this case, evidently fear. Researchers have known for quite some time that negative emotions program your mind, program your brain to do only one or two things. When you see that large brown Grizzly Bear step on your path, for example, the rest of the world, the rest of your life, doesn’t matter. Your sole focus is on the feeling of fear that permeates your entire body, the bear, and what’s going to happen next. Nothing else in the entire world matters—not your family, not your job, not your health, nothing. 


In other words, negative emotions narrow your mind, limit your options, and focus your thoughts. Obviously, this can be a useful instinct when in life and death situations but today, in our society unless you live high in the mountains you don’t really need to worry about coming face-to-face with a giant brown Grizzly Bear. The problem, however, is that your brain is still programmed to respond to negative emotions the same way—by shutting off the rest of the world and limiting the options available to you. 

Why You Shouldn’t Make Decisions In Anger

When you get in a fight with someone, whether it be physical or verbal, in person or not, your anger and pure emotion might literally consume you to the point where you can’t think about anything or anyone else. And then what happens? Your emotions take over, you say or do something you don’t really mean and more often than not regret doing.

Or maybe you come home late from a stressed-out day at work, you may find it difficult to do anything productive because you are literally paralyzed by the number of things you have to get done. In both cases above, your brain closes off the outside world and focuses only on the powerful, negative emotions of anger, stress, and fear—just like it did with the giant brown Grizzly Bear. 

Another Example Why Shouldn’t Make Decisions In Anger

A young boy or girl who is part of a competitive or even not so competitive soccer team and absolutely loves the sport, develops the ability to move athletically (physical skills), the ability to play and communicate with others (social skills), and the ability to push through and stay mentally strong (mental skills). The positive emotions of play and excitement prompt the child to build skills that are useful and valuable to everyday life. The skills this child develops last much longer than the original emotions. 


Positive thinking and positive emotions as Fredrickson describes prompts you to explore more and develop skills that last much longer than the original emotions. Negative angry, fearful thinking prompts you to do the opposite. Why? Because when there are immediate threats and fear takes over, your mind closes down. Your brain goes into survival mode. It’s our primal instinct, our job is to survive and that’s what our brain attempts to do. This is why when you are upset, nervous, or angry do not make decisions. Take some time to decompress and rationalize the decision you are going to make.



Decisions made in anger cannot be undone. Be careful what you say and do in the moment because you may regret it later. I hope by now you understand the importance of and why you shouldn’t make decisions in anger.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the undoing effect?

The undoing effect is the hypothesis that positive emotions might correct or “undo” the aftereffects of negative emotions. Hence the name the “undoing effect.”

What are the top 10 positive emotions?

Joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration, awe, and love. Although there are many other positive emotions, far too many to list here, these are the top 10 if there is in fact a top 10.

What are positive emotions in positive psychology?

Positive emotions such as joy, contentment, excitement, and love are thought to appear complementary broadening an individuals thought-action repertoire.

What are the three main pillars of positive psychology?

The three main pillars of positive psychology include positive experiences, positive individual trait, and positive institutions.

What is positive emotion Perma?

Seligman’s PERMA model is the scientific theory of happiness. PERMA is made up of positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning, and accomplishments.

Why should you not make decisions when you are angry?

This is why you shouldn’t make decisions in anger: When you are upset, when you are experiencing negative emotions your brain closes down, ignores the options available to you and resorts into survival mode.

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