Powerful disturbing emotions – such as anger, sadness or fear – can take us off track. Being able regulate to strong emotions – learn from them and not allow them to overwhelm us – is a characteristic of good leadership. It’s also the basis of emotional intelligence.

The notion of ‘Antidote Emotions’# comes from the teachings of Buddhism. The idea is to neutralise afflictive emotions with a specific antidote – think medicine and the use of antivenin.

Two diametrically opposed mental processes cannot happen simultaneously – we can’t feel love and hate at the same time.


The Method

1) Determine a disturbing emotion that limits your leadership, and identify the antidote that corresponds to that negative emotion.

Examples might include

  • Hate =>  Love
  • Fear =>  Safety
  • Anger =>  Patience

2) Develop the Antidote. Associate with the antidote emotion by going back to a specific time and place where you felt that emotion in the past. For example, if my antidote emotion is Joy, I might go to day I first held my daughter.

Fully sense that emotion – notice what you see, what you hear, what you feel, where you hold that emotion in your body. Fully live that emotion again. Then go to a second and third specific past experience of that emotion and do the same thing. This will increase your access to this emotion when you need it in future.

Try this when you are calm! The time to begin this practice is NOT when you are mid-stream in a strong outburst of disturbing emotion

3) Practice. Strengthening your antidote emotion takes practice. This is not a one-off activity; it is a progressive development, just like building any new skill.

4) Apply the antidote when you recognise that you are heading towards your disturbing emotion.

What disturbing emotion will you start with to develop your own Antidote Emotions?



* I learned this technique based on ideas adapted from the book ‘Happiness: A guide to developing life’s most important skill’ by Matthieu Ricard (Atlantic Books, London 2007, Chapter 10, Disturbing Emotions).


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