How do we prevent falling into the trap of letting our thoughts and feelings determine our behaviour (or lack of it)?
While our emotions are designed to motivate action, unquestioning adherence to those emotions can get us into trouble. Consider depression. Depression robs people of their energy, motivation and interests in life. If you always did what depression told you, you probably wouldn’t do much of anything, which becomes a vicious cycle: we have no energy to do anything, so we don’t do anything, which contributes to feelings of guilt, hopelessness and ineffectiveness, which makes us feel even more depressed.
The key to getting out of this trap: experiment with doing the opposite of what you feel like doing. There is a way of doing this: have compassion for yourself in your current situation, acknowledge and honour your feelings, and then challenge them. As a person living with depression, if you wait until you feel like doing something, you may be waiting a very long time. The idea is to challenge yourself with the message that what you ‘feel’ like doing is not important, the importance is in what you DO.
One of my favorite mantras: “don’t think, just do”. The more I ‘think’ about what I’m supposed to do, the more I may talk myself out of it. Don’t think, just do: set small goals to set yourself up for success, perhaps the first goal is simply to put on your workout outfit, the next day you put on your outfit and drive past the gym, the third day you actually enter the gym.
Research indicates if you do this every day, setting small goals and achieving them, over time you will start to feel better, ‘doing’ creates an upward spiral: do something pleasant or pleasurable, this makes us feel good, and we want to do it again.
Experiment: set a daily goal of experiencing something that gives you a (healthy) sense of pleasure or accomplishment, this can have a powerful impact on your mood in a short period of time.