This is a post about the mushy side of things. The non-logical. The instinctive response in the primitive part of our brains. This is a blog about feelings.
Because it turns out: feelings are the key to everything. I mentioned last time how important feelings are for determining when something is wrong. And also for signaling the strength of our resolve to make a change. I believe negative emotions are a good thing! They provide critical information.
They also can be a trap.
The trouble with negative emotions is that they feel so awful. And because we don’t want to feel that way, we set off in search of the cause. To discover the thing we need to root out to make this feeling go away. And that’s good. It’s important to name your problem! The trouble is: if you’re not careful, all that good, important work can conspire to keep you stuck. Sitting in your puddle of tears, overcome with anger or boredom or sadness or disappointment.
Have you ever been too hungry to decide what to eat?
I have. Not starving-hungry. Just hungry. Borderline hangry if I’m honest. And maybe it was the the lack of calories flowing to my brain, but no matter how well I understood my need—my stomach was growling, this wasn’t a mystery—I just couldn't decide what to eat. I had a perfectly defined problem and no ability to solve it.
All negative feelings can be like that. When we go on the hunt to discover the source of our pain, we usually find it. And that knowing, the focus we bring to the source of our trouble, traps us in a loop. I feel pain—I think of the cause of my pain—I feel more pain—I think of the cause of my pain—I feel more pain—…
And no matter how hard we try to logic ourselves out of the situation, we struggle. Negative emotions focus the mind. And that is the last thing we need! Creative, optimistic solutions are born in expanded, untroubled minds. We actually need to feel good to figure out how to feel good.
So how do we do that?!
We imagine. We envision the beautiful, inspiring future when this particular problem is solved. We see ourselves living that new life, and we let ourselves feel how our future imagined-self is feeling. We find the most exciting and energizing piece of that vision and focus our attention there. Enthusiasm is key. It lets us know how likely we are to do the work to achieve a future free of this particular problem. And it powers the logical centers of our brain with a jolt of creativity, giving us a chance to find a solution and map out a path to that daydream.
Sounds easy, right? It’s not.
How many times have you been furious and thought I know this feeling isn’t serving me. I should focus on gratitude. This situation is horrible, but I am blessed in so many ways. And then immediately also thought, Oh shut up with that hippy crap! I’m pissed!
Strong emotional reactions actually rob the logical portions of our brains of blood and nutrients. Instinctive responses are strong. It’s hard to out-smart Mother Nature! But you can trick her for a minute. And that is often the opening that you need. Get some exercise, have sex, watch that movie that always gives you big belly laughs. Distract yourself from the pain-focus-loop and flood your brain with happy hormones. Let your physiology get you part-way down the road toward imagining your bright future. Then try.
If the future you envision isn’t motivating enough, create a new one! The strength of your emotional connection to your goal will determine your success in achieving it. Find the feeling that makes you say, Hell yes! I want that! Don’t settle for, well, at least it’s better than this… That won’t open you up enough to creative possibilities. And creative possibilities are the whole point.
What do you do if you generate too many possible solutions? Your feelings can help there, too. Start with the one that gives you the most energy. That feels the most natural. That speaks to you most clearly.
I told you: feelings are the key to everything.
A note of caution: some problems can be too difficult to solve alone. If you find yourself with lackluster visions of your future, consider finding a coach to help you shift perspective and expand your view. If you find yourself stuck much deeper than that, consider speaking to a counselor. Some feelings are too tangled to be dissected without professional guidance. It happens. And it’s absolutely OK.
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The Desire Map: A Guide to Creating Goals With Soul (affiliate link) by Danielle Laporte
Mastery by Robert Greene
Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson
Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath
The Truth about Leadership by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner