The greatest thing I’ve learnt from my job is to ignore my feelings. That might sound weird – surely repressing our feelings is unhealthy, surely my whole job is to get people to talk about their feelings as a way of healing?
Part of the damage that anxiety and depression can do is linked to becoming so overwhelmed by your feelings (in conjunction with what you tell yourself about those feelings) that you allow them to stop you from doing what you like (those activities that have the potential to make you feel good). But anxiety and depression are complicated disorders, and this is a simple blog post about one idea: don’t let your feelings dictate your life.
I’m not talking about a good ol’ bit of self-indulgent wallowing. Sometimes feeling tired, hungover or sad is a great excuse to get in some much needed self-care time and just relax. You’re feeling bad, but it’s kind of okay feeling bad, because now you have an excuse to order take-away. And the next day, you don’t feel guilty – you actually feel secretly pleased with yourself.
I’m also not talking about pushing yourself through feeling horrible in order to fulfil someone else’s agenda. Being able to say no to others in order to take care of yourself is an important skill.
I’m talking about not letting your feelings derail you from what really matters to you – do not let feelings side-track your progress towards your goals, or interrupt activities that are valuable to maintaining your sense of self and purpose in the world (Often, we have these two mixed up, and can push through all sorts of horrible feelings if we know others are relying on us, but are all too quick to give up on what matters to us unless we’re feeling perfectly motivated/ creative/ energetic etc.).
How Can You Do This?
The simple answer is: Just Do it! But of course it’s not that easy…
Honestly, whatever works for you to get you to keep going with activities that are important to you, regardless of your feelings, is helpful.
My top two tips for keeping it going:
Tell it like it is
This is counter-intuitive but actually effective. Normally when we start to feel low, or scared, we try to hide it. We tell ourselves we’re fine, we’re okay, we can do this. Then the feeling is still there. It’s no use, you might say. I can’t get rid of this feeling. I’ve tried everything. I’ll give in to it now.
Acknowledging the feeling, to yourself at least and preferably to someone else, means you’re not trying to pretend. But you’re not expecting the feeling to go in order to take action. For example, ‘I’m feeling really tired this morning. This report might not be as good as I’d hoped.’ And it probably won’t be as good as if you weren’t tired. But it will be done, which is a lot better than not done.
Imperfect progress is better than no progress. And it’s more exhausting too: so that when tomorrow rolls around, not only are you not starting from scratch, but you’re likely to have had a better night’s sleep and be able to make any changes that need to be made with a clearer head.
Part of this is about being able to let go of perfection. Done is better than perfect! And that’s true no matter what you’re battling. Yes, you may be more quiet than usual, but isn’t that being a better friend than cancelling your coffee date?
It’s definitely harder to do, well, everything, when you're feeling sad, tired, or scared. So part of acknowledging you feel this way is making allowances for that fact. This might mean letting yourself put off making the charts part of the report until the next day. It might mean that for every page of work you complete, you let yourself check one personal email. It might mean you have a hot chocolate while you’re writing. Whatever helps you to stay on track with what is important to you to get done, is useful.
Why it’s worth it
One big gain is that you keep making progress on what matters to you. This is important in and of itself because you’re now closer to where you want to be. This fact is also great for increasing your chances of feeling satisfied afterwards and more positive and motivated the next day.
The hidden benefit is the sense of power that this progressing brings. Wait up: you can choose how your day goes, no matter how you feel? You can stick to your diet even when you feel like eating chocolate? You can choose to write more of your novel, even though you’re not feeling inspired? You can still talk to clients and have breakthroughs and get results even as you’re convinced that you could’ve done even better had you not been feeling this poorly? You can still be kind even though you don’t feel like it and people still seem to get benefits from your kindness? Wow. The power in this makes living your dreams and reaching your goals seem so much more attainable and once you know this, you feel bigger than any little ol’ feeling anyway.
How do you motivate yourself to do the hard stuff? Comment below with your top tips for staying on track when your feelings get big.
If your feelings are keeping you stuck on a regular basis, it might be time to call in the professionals. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to see if my psychological or coaching services could help you.
Lana Hall, Psychologist. Helping you to live your best life, using the power of psychology.