8 Ways To Kill Your Most Destructive Emotion

If you find yourself wasting mental energy getting jealous of others' success, it's time to break that bad habit and learn to appreciate what you've got.
President and Founder, Clarion Enterprises Ltd.
January 22, 2014

If envy were tangible and had a shape, American syndicated columnist Charley Reese once said, it would be the shape of a boomerang. That's because, of all the negative emotions, envy is one of the most self-destructive—those who are in the throes of it end up hurting themselves in many ways, because envy engenders a family of related feelings, including frustration, sadness, indignation, resentment and anger.

Of course, no one readily admits to feeling envy. It carries with it guilt, shame and embarrassment and is seen as a sign of weakness. But the truth is, everyone has experienced it at some time or other, and those who say they haven't are either saints or liars.

"Envy, the unpleasant emotion that can arise when we compare unfavorably with others, is a common experience for most people regardless of culture," says Richard H. Smith, the lead researcher on envy at Kentucky University.

Just whom do we envy? Scientists show that we envy people we consider similar to ourselves but who appear to have greater advantage in an area that's linked to our self-worth, such as our professional accomplishments.

If you experience envy and the related emotions of discontent in a business environment, what can you do to manage these emotions to your advantage? Here are eight ideas:

Use Envy As A Call To Action

Rather than feel bad when you experience envy, think about how you can use this to provide you with inspiration to better yourself and your business. It can give your motivation a focus—a touch of envy can turn into a burst of energy that helps you put achievement goals into action.

Count Your Blessings

Making comparisons with others is a surefire way to court unhappiness. Keep score of your own blessings instead of tallying those of others. Research shows that concentrating on all your positive aspects can be an effective strategy for muting some of the negative reactions that may arise when you compare yourself to others in a similar situation.

Be Too Big For Envy

There is no better antidote for envy than to be so busy with your own achievements that you have no time to envy the achievement of others. Pursue your course of excellence to the point of fanaticism. Produce first-class work for the sheer pleasure of it, regardless of how it compares to anyone else. If you need a shot in the arm to inspire you in this regard, watch Robin Sharma's video, How to Unleash Your Greatness in 2014.

Manage Envy In The Workplace

Given the inherent competitive nature of organizational life, it's quite easy to unwittingly create situations that provoke envy among staff members. Use fairness in the way you promote people, guard against using praise of some employees as a manipulative strategy to make others feel bad, and avoid playing favorites.

In Managing Envy and Jealousy in the Workplace, researchers Kim Dogan and the late Robert P. Vecchio recommend a few other strategies for reducing and managing envy in the workplace: Pay attention to the emotional maturity of those you hire, establish a team culture and a participative management, tie incentives to cooperation, promote open communication, and place high performers who often give rise to envy in mentor roles. 

Raise Your Self-Awareness

Self-awareness precedes self-management. To cope with envy, it pays to become aware of situations or people that might provoke feelings of resentment and discontent. Take the test, Self-Assessment: Are You Falling Into The Envy Trap?, that was developed by Harvard Business Review to increase your self-knowledge in this area. Use the results to gain insights that can help you develop a plan to eliminate those feelings of envy.

Avoid Envy-Provoking Situations

While you can't avoid every situation that might provoke envy, an easy one to manage is the passive use of Facebook. Research conducted by scientists in Germany shows that "access to copious positive news and the profiles of seemingly successful ‘friends’ fosters social comparison that can readily provoke envy." Profile embellishments and photos of lavish vacations, for example, can negatively affect a person's satisfaction with his or her own life. Is Facebook having a negative effect on your emotional life? If so, make some changes. For instance, block notifications from the individuals who are inspiring envy in you.

Reflect On The Trade-Offs

If you envy people for their achievements, consider the trade-offs that led to that success. For example, writing a book is time-consuming and robs you of time spent on other activities. It can usurp not only precious time but may require dealing with rejection and fear of failure. Having a position that requires travel to exotic locations may supplant spending time with family and enjoying watching your kids grow. Think of the sacrifices that people might have made and the price they've had to pay to get to where they are. It might mitigate some of your feelings of envy. Ultimately, your achievement today is, in large part, about the choices you make.

Practice Generosity Of Spirit

Walt Whitman once said, "The habit of giving only enhances the desire to give." Get in the habit of appreciating the success of others without feeling diminished yourself. Send an email to congratulate a business associate on their success, pick up the phone to compliment someone on her achievement, praise someone for a stellar presentation, and share others' good news with your network. The more you practice these gestures, the more you expand your capacity for generosity and lessen those feelings of envy.

In the end, you need to come to terms with the fact that indulging in envy is a waste of mental energy and a productivity killer. As Joseph Epstein, author of Envy: The Seven Deadly Sins, puts it, envy is "very poor mental hygiene." It blocks out clarity both about ourselves and those we envy and lowers our opinion of ourselves.

"Envy clouds thoughts," Epstein says, "clobbers generosity, precludes any hope of serenity, and ends in shriveling the heart." These are all reasons enough to fight it through self-honesty, self-analysis and emotional intelligence.

Bruna Martinuzzi is the founder of Clarion Enterprises Ltd., and the author of two books, Presenting with Credibility: Practical Tools and Techniques for Effective Presentations and The Leader as a Mensch: Become the Kind of Person Others Want to Follow.

Read more articles on leadership.

Photo: Thinkstock

President and Founder, Clarion Enterprises Ltd.