Are you feeling bad or sad? You probably want different emotions. It is easier than you think! Just act the opposite way. Since your feelings are primarily responders and often untrustworthy, change your actions to help your emotions change.
Acting Then Feeling, or...
You realize significant benefits when you act, even when your emotions oppose the right action. And there are times when having the right emotions can encourage better actions. So, which is it – does acting come first, or does feeling come first?
What is the connection between feelings and actions? Do your emotions impact your behavior? Does your behavior affect your emotions?
The answer is yes, both happen.
It’s easy to see feelings drive behaviors, but the opposite is also true. For example, researchers consistently find that people who behave in ways that conflict with their emotions or attitude will change their emotions to be more consistent with their behavior.
That is why people who have gone through the trauma of having an arm or leg amputated are often asked to help others in the hospital as soon as possible.
In those demanding situations, feeling bad is typical. When the person is asked to help someone, their thinking changes at least a little bit. The more their thinking changes, the greater chance they will help someone. When they help someone, they feel better!
So, your feelings can change when you act differently than the feelings you have at any point in time. Of course, thinking precedes the acting, or you wouldn't be acting differently.
Act the Way You Want to Feel
Order or consistency is essential for life and your body. Research shows that you can act differently than your feelings to impact your bad feelings. Of course, that is when the depression is thought-driven, not chemical problems of the body.
You can experiment on yourself to prove whether this works for you with a simple technique. Try it the next time you feel bad or are just sad. There are just three steps – Face, Body, Breathe/Speak.
- FACE: Suppose you are sad right now. Start with your face. Ask yourself, “How would I like to feel right now?” If you answer “sad,” then this three-step technique may not help, but if you answer “happy,” “joyful,” “peaceful,” or other similar words, then put a smile or at least a pleasant expression on your face. Even if you answered sad or depressed, you could still try this.
- BODY: Second, look at your body. Most likely, your body reflects sadness – shoulders slumped, head down, and moving slow. Change your body to be in a position that demonstrates the word you chose. If you want to be happy, at minimum, sit or stand up straight, shoulders back, chin up – good posture. And move with more energy.
- BREATHE/SPEAK: Finally, think about your breathing and speech. Take some deep breaths. If you speak, then speak with energy and articulation.
You Create Dissonance
If you do those three steps, you put your body out of sync with your emotions.
So, you were feeling bad, but now your body is “happy.” That means you are in what researchers call dissonance – emotions and actions are not "on the same page."
At this point, you have two options –
- change your emotions to be like your body or,
- change your body to be like your emotions.
Suppose you decide to let your body remain “happy.” That allows you to experience the reality of emotions being responders. They not only respond to your actions, but they, more importantly, respond to your thinking which drives your actions. If you decide sad is what you want, your face, body, and speech change to reflect those feelings.
But that is just being fake! That could be the case, but if you decide happy or joyful is more important to you than feeling bad or depressed, it is not fake – it is being true to your values or priorities.
Being depressed is not what you value, which is the actual “fake” item. This technique can help you to be real.
Try it and see if it works for you.