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Fooled by Feelings
Fooled by Feelings
"I feel tired. I'll go for a walk later."
"It's late. I'll go for a walk tomorrow."
"I feel like vegging and watching YouTube. I really don't feel like doing any more work today. I'll be over this by tomorrow."
"I feel like having one of these Krispy Kreme donuts. Eating one won't be so bad, I'll eat better
I'm sure you can offer many similar examples, where you've let your feelings run your life. And yes, there is a missing "I" in "run", and I'll let you work out where it should go, if you feel like it.
It took me decades to figure this out, but it's now so important for me to get this right that I've set up system upon system to try and help me take feelings out of the equation.
We know how acting on feelings compounds over a long period of time into results you don't like and a life you're not happy with.
Why does this happen?
What can we do about it?
Why do I act on my feelings?
We often see acting on feelings as the opposite of acting on reason. This isn't entirely true. There are reasons, but you were either never truly conscious of them in the first place, or they've become subconscious through practice ant so they've become "just who you are"
Let's call bullshit on that.
First of all, can we agree that acting on feelings often leads us to actions that hurt us? I mean, I used to feel like having a cigarette, often, as one rather brutal example.
We act on feelings because our feelings direct us away from pain and towards pleasure. It's that simple.
If we procrastinate, it's because at the time, the pain of not doing the thing we know we need to do doesn't yet outweigh the pleasure derived from not doing it.
The pleasure of having a cigarette is greater than the pain of withdrawal.
The pleasure of watching crap on YouTube is greater than the pain of the effort of starting a task we need to start.
The pain of getting up, shifting out of our routine and going for a walk is greater than the pleasure, however small, of sticking with the familiar routine of inaction, or indeed, going for the last Krispy Kreme in the box.
We move away from pain, no matter how small, and towards pleasure.
Our brains are also wired to move towards novelty, which is why Loren Brichter's genius invention had a greater impact on human behaviour than any single mechanic in the history of computing.
What can I do about it?
Now that we know that our brains are hijacking us and that we're not fundamentally broken, here are some tools you can use to improve your actions, so that you form new habits, ones that will build your life into something you had a say in, rather than one that just happened.
I conquered the feeling of hitting the snooze button many years ago through the use of a technique I described in a recent newsletter. Our feelings generate automatic thoughts, and it's these thoughts we must interrupt. If we act quickly enough, we have chance. As soon as you think about the thing you must do, immediately act. Don't think about how you feel. Start with small things, and soon it will be habit.
If you've been doing this a long time, it's never too late to turn back to your goals and dreams. Persistence, and forgiving yourself because you're human are the cornerstone of progress. Treat yourself like you'd treat a good friend.
If your feelings keep driving you to look at new tools for a "fresh approach", then your feelings are hijacking you and you need to just do the job.
If you find yourself thinking negatively a lot, then it's possible you are being plagued by procedural thinking, that is, thinking you didn't consciously generate. It's time to identify the enemy and act consciously.
Are you distracted more than you'd like? Focus is today's superpower and I can show you how to develop it.
Stuck in a rut? We can fix that too. Start the day fast and keep up the pace as long as you can.
This is what happens.
We think about doing something
We get a feeling about it
Our automatic thoughts start to give voice to these feelings
These thoughts move you from pain and towards pleasure
You agree with the faulty thinking, act upon it and later, sometimes much later, regret it.
You want to make a habit of doing the thing immediately, and bypassing the thinking that happens by the end of stage 2 and just before stage 3. You usually have just a few seconds, or it's too late.
You have to change your thinking about what pain and pleasure means. I associate cigarette smoking with my young children sobbing at my death. That's a powerful image, and incredibly motivating.
We have to remind ourselves daily that most of our thinking is procedural, and doesn't serve our best interests, and that our feelings are being guided by associations that are accurate in the short term, but are often uninformed by the big picture.
The good news is that this can be fixed. Now you know how.