So often, we live our lives expecting to feel a certain way. When we inevitably don’t, we question our actions, and often punish ourselves for feeling that emotion.
I’m angry about this ‘small’ thing; I must be overreacting. I’m too anxious to speak up; I’m a coward. I feel nervous about this interview; I can’t do it.
However, there’s something to be said for taking meaningful action regardless of how you feel. Repeating the mantra in the title (‘I don’t have to feel X’. I just have to do it’ takes the pressure off me to feel a certain way. I can choose my actions based on all the information I have, not just emotions — and I can avoid shaming myself for those feelings, since I took the valued action regardless.
Here’s some examples:
You don’t have to feel calm or comfortable. You just have to do it.
Recently, I had a tense conversation with someone over text; I wanted to focus on that and keep checking my messages, and to continue the conversation. However, I was just about to go into a conference and knew my attention would be much more valuable there. I made the choice to focus on the talk, BUT, I began beating myself up for feeling anxious in the back of my mind. I should be over this by now! I shouldn’t get anxious about stuff like that!
Eventually, I remembered that it didn’t matter if I felt anxious. The action that would serve me in that moment was to focus on the talk, and reply later. So I did that, and accepted that anxiety was just the emotion my brain was farting out at that moment.
You don’t have to feel thrilled about exercising. You just have to do it.
It’s awesome – and useful – to find a sport or physical activity that will keep your interest enough that you can keep it up consistently. There’s no point trying to play rugby if you only enjoy running on your own, for instance. But let’s be honest, even when you love something it can feel like a chore to get up, put your kit on and get out there. At that point, if it’s something you value, you don’t need to be excited — you just have to do it. Similarly, you don’t have to be excited to eat healthy or cook vegetables; often times you won’t and takeaway will seem so much more rewarding…
You don’t have to feel like eating healthily. You just have to do it.
You don’t have to feel loving towards your friends and family all the time. You just have to demonstrate that love.
Sometimes our loved ones hurt us, in big and small ways, and it can be tempting to withdraw our affection as a result. We revert to child mode, as a way to punish them: the silent treatment, tantrums, blaming others. We don’t bother to communicate using the adult skills we’ve learned. Because we close off feeling loving towards them, we also don’t want to communicate in a way that benefits them or the relationship; that would mean being vulnerable, and the possibility of more hurt.
You don’t have to feel loving or particularly caring to your loved ones, but you DO have to commit to demonstrating that love. That means being assertive, respect boundaries on both sides, and being empathetic to the other person’s struggles. Surprisingly, it’s perfectly possible to do that without ‘feeling’ loving.
It is so easy to show empathy and affection when you feel good about someone. It is far harder, but much more rewarding, to consistently be empathetic, loving and assertive with everyone even if they’re not giving you what you want.
You don’t have to feel anything at all…
The point of this post is to highlight how our expectations of our emotions clash with reality. Usually we don’t feel as excited, happy or calm as we expected — and when that happens, we usually take it as a signal to step back or slow down. As an example, sometimes I’ve gone to parties or social events, and at some point in the evening I felt sad or disconnected from people. This used to get me down, and I used to avoid them. In the end, I realised the thing I wanted to do was go and interact with people. It did not matter that I felt sad during it. It only mattered that I did it.
There is no obligation to feel a certain way. There are no rules about how you should/should not feel.
And if you decide to take some action (which is entirely up to you), whatever you do feel is simply part of that experience.
So enjoy it!