Actions Before Feelings
Feelings indicate to us who we are and what matters to us. Being human allows us to experience our emotions deeply. We cry, get scared, feel joy or anger and it can add to our sense of being alive. These feelings can be important and useful as they can promote positive change, help us connect in a special way with others, or maybe be channeled into art, music, or other creative ideas. Feelings are also inevitable and they are universal: if you are human, you will feel.
In therapy, however, I often see people who are stuck in feeling mode. They may be more prone to this due to personality and temperament, or because of episodes of anxiety and depression, or perhaps life transitions.
How do we know we might be stuck in feelings? Perhaps we have found ourselves dwelling on something and how bad we feel about it, but unable to take action. (sometimes in this stage it is particularly helpful to talk to a therapist to get to the deeper issues at play.) If we listen to our language, we might even say things like "I feel like...." instead of "I think....." Or we might say "I don't feel like it" and utilize this as an excuse to not do something, that we know may be of benefit to us. While sometimes it can be difficult to remember in the moment, feelings are not facts.
So why is it important to not indulge all our feelings? Take some time to think what your day might look like if you did everything you "felt like" doing in the moment. Now, how might it look if you still noticed your feelings but then made a commitment to make a good choice? You might never feel like mowing the grass, doing the dishes, having that challenging conversation, or choosing the salad over the hamburger. But you will get the satisfaction of knowing you did something you can be proud of.
In AA, there is a saying "think through the drink." This is wise, because feelings might say, "great idea! you deserve it!" or perhaps you'll think about how you'll have a quick fix to deaden your anxious thoughts, or you'll be able to escape your sad or depressed mood. Instead, it is important to accept a feeling, not run from it, and not indulge.
What happens when we do something good for ourselves even when our feelings might want the pleasure in the moment? We learn that we can get past a challenging moment, craving, desire, etc and choose a healthier, better path. Such a boost to your self confidence and respect in yourself and your choices! And what is interesting about this too, is that when we do this, we do often feel better! (sometimes not as quickly!) Most of us tend to feel our best in the long term when we are behaving in ways that we admire, when we are achieving something good for ourselves, our family, and our world, when we aren't over indulgent, and when we practice being content with the fact that sometimes sadness, anger and fear are a part of life we don't have to run away from. We practice acceptance.
Sometimes I will tell clients to do something positive when they are NOT in the right mood as a little experiment to see what will happen. When someone does this, it can be a real shift in mindset that we can choose a right choice under less than ideal circumstances, including bad moods. It is empowering to know we have the capabilities to make a small good choice, and that small good choices add up.
So next time you might find yourself over indulging in a bad mood, or feeling overly anxious, you might consider trying to accept your feeling this way, know that feelings won't hurt you however uncomfortable and painful they are, and choose to get in your body and take action. This could mean getting out of bed, or it could mean going for that run, doing those dishes, or maybe showing up at work and trying your best. And as a little extra motivation to help you take the action, consider the little boost you might feel after doing the things you don't feel like doing.