Don’t Feel Like It? A Paradoxical Mood Improver
Tonight I came home tired and sleepy, with work that still needed to be done. Didn't even have the energy it takes to enjoyably procrastinate. No weeding, reading, or frittering.
Then I remembered a tidbit of wisdom I'd been saving to post here: about a strategy for shaking an undesirable mood by behaving in opposition to the emotion. Here's the item from Deborah Barrett, based on ideas developed by Marsha Linehan, founder of dialectical behavioral therapy or DBT.
"The idea is that often what we 'feel like doing' when we are sad, angry, anxious, or experiencing shame, guilt or other negative emotions tends to make things worse.
When we are depressed, for example, we don't feel like getting out of bed or doing much else, which tends to increase misery. By acting opposite, you might engage in exercise, take a walk in the sunshine, or other active behaviors that go against how you feel — and by doing this, you can lift your spirits.
Begin by noticing your emotion and best that you can, feel it wash over you like a wave …. Then evaluate whether the emotion feels helpful — if your anger is positively motivating, let it propel you into problem-solving mode. Of if your feel sad because you are grieving, you may choose to grieve. However, if the emotion is generally unhelpful, that is, it simply adds to misery,… then select an opposite action that will alter how you feel.
For example, if you find yourself feeling anxious, you may decide to approach the very thing that makes you feel anxious (as long as this is a safe thing to do). This exposure without negative consequence helps reduce the anxiety. Even better if you can experience a sense of mastery over some piece of it. This works for the other difficult emotions as well. If you experience unjustified guilt or shame, the goal is to engage in the behavior over and over, with self acceptance, softness, and enjoyment. Try to respond to anger or sadness with gentleness. Or to any unpleasant emotion with behaviors that are pleasant, occupy your mind/body, and reduce the intensity of the feeling — such as exercise, sensual pleasure, and activities that help you laugh out loud.
This skill is difficult because it requires that you do things that you 'don't feel like,' and that you continually remind yourself that this works. The more that you engage in opposite action and see its positive effects, the more evidence you have to motivate yourself. Eventually, you may start engaging in opposite actions without having to think about it ….
Throughout, try to be kind and nonjudgmental to yourself. Do not berate yourself for feeling as you do or for your response; and remind yourself that every emotion is valid. The idea is not to 'talk yourself out of the emotion.' Rather, it is to acknowledge to yourself how you do feel and then seek to engage in something deliberately to improve your experience."
Remembering this notion vaguely earlier tonight, I decided to try it — and pushed myself into doing my half-hour workout: 15 minutes of jumprope and 15 of floor exercises. I got through it. And it did help: exercise is usually pretty energizing and so is the accompanying self-congratulation.
Then I dug out the above piece of copy to post here and realized that: sleepy is not an emotion. But too late: the strategy had already worked. Even so, I may go to bed a little early.
Categories: enhancing creativity