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:
As I continue to cut compulsions out, and work on living towards my values, anxiety and depression are no longer a constantly deepening hole in my life. Great! I’m cured!
Not exactly. I’m realising that a lack of unhappiness doesn’t equate with feeling happiness. Unless you know how to cultivate that, it’s easy to fall back on old habits, and be stuck in the same old rut.
Do I know how to be happy? Honestly, I’m not sure. But ultimately, I really want to learn how to act from a place of gratitude, and/or curiousity. Not fear or wanting to avoid discomfort. I’d like to move towards this mindset and see where it gets me.
I want to give love and affection to friends to make their day a little nicer, not to avoid feeling alone.
I want to eat because I care for and am grateful for my body and the energy it gives me. Not to get away from some emotion, or to punish myself.
I want to learn things because the world is interesting. Not so I seem more interesting.
Sometimes I do these things already, or at least I hope I do. But it’s far too easy to act in a way that is all about reducing discomfort, instead of showing appreciation for the life I have now.
I’d like to spend as much time cultivating emotions like gratitude and compassion, as I did for anxiety, anger and depression. They say it takes ten thousand hours to be a master at something, so I’ve got a lot of gratitude to get through 😉
My habitual response to discomfort is to run, avoid, or to distract from the problem with something. Examples:
- Feel anxious about work, or imposter syndrome –immediately want to leave my job and find somewhere else.
- Feel tired or stressed: nap my problems away or watch YouTube videos until I feel better.
- Get annoyed at a friend or situation: complain or vent about it instead of taking any action to fix it.
- Know I should write a blog post, but I don’t feel inspired so I don’t wanna: avoid it. (admittedly I’ve been steadily writing my novel as well, but I am hardly trying to fit blogging in either)
My journey in cutting out compulsions has gotten pretty far, but I must fill my time with useful things, or I’ll start relapsing. It is in incremental steps so far, as I mentioned in my previous post about small wins: committing to the tiniest action as often as I can. Writing a paragraph, playing one scale on guitar, putting on my exercise clothes. It’s working well so far, as the act of starting usually propels me into doing more.
However, ironically, a discomfort I need to move towards is feeling like I’m ‘not doing well enough’ at moving towards discomfort! I tend to put myself down, and sometimes the struggle towards doing more comes from a feeling of inadequacy and unhappiness with my life, rather than just wanting to do more things I like.
But I’m doing fine. And I can act, and do things I value, and love myself — regardless of the discomfort that brings.
Honestly, I can hardly bring myself to write a post. For various reasons I’ve been very sleep deprived this week (bad sleep hygiene, mostly!). My motivation is pretty much non-existent in most areas of my life.
But I read Atomic Habits recently, and because of that I’m trying to rely on small habits, and small victories, instead. I need the consistency first before I can think about doing things for a long period of time.
Meditating every day, but for only a minute.
Studying Korean every day, but I just do one topic or podcast or video.
Playing guitar every day, but I run through one scale or one technique or piece of theory (I’ve had the most progress I’ve ever had in guitar because of this, after hitting the intermediate slump for several years).
Writing my novel every day, but only for twenty minutes.
The blog hasn’t quite fit in yet — but I hope I will work out how to, even if it’s just a paragraph every week.
(I’m a little late to the party in writing this — but better late than never!)
Steven Universe is and has been one of my favourite shows for several years now. I’ve shared it with partners, friends and family. People who are still in my life and some who aren’t. I binged my way through the first thirty episodes or so, rambling to the friend who convinced me to watch it in the first place. I cried through Here Comes a Thought (a song about mindfulness) onto my ex-girlfriend’s lap, and I cried showing my mum the episode. I still choke up hearing the song now.
Watching the SU season 5 finale – without going too deep into spoilers – was incredibly satisfying. Ultimately the show really is about loving yourself, flaws and all. That’s how I feel about the show itself too: for all its faults and the hiatuses I’ve stuck through, I always deeply appreciate how SU isn’t afraid to shy away from exploring deep topics like that. I’ve grown with this show’s characters, and like Steven come to know myself and love myself far more than I used to.
So naturally I cried and gasped through most of the episode. Only after did it occur to me that it was the most I’d reacted to anything in a while. Odd moments of ‘real emotion’ like that creep on me: in things like Steven Universe, playing with an animal; taking a good walk; cooking a nice meal; or hearing the opening overture to a musical. They’re not always happy, but they’re real and vivid.
I’m realising that I often shame myself for not feeling enough when ‘big’ things happen. Or, I’m constantly hoping that finding the big things will make me happy – a better job, better relationships, more money, someone needs to do this. Or I say shouldn’t be so emotional about something like a cartoon. That’s ‘weird’ or ‘creepy’. It’s for kids for God’s sake. I’m either angry I’m not feeling or angry I’m feeling too much.
But again the little moments are the ones that feel most special. And they’re far more accessible and under my control. I can enjoy a piece of music, a cartoon or food right now; I can’t magic up a new job or win the lottery every day.
SU is a phenomenal cartoon but in the end it is ‘just a show’, which really touched me at my core. And frankly I want more ‘just a show’ moments like that in my life.