Emotions can be very useful when they guide us to act in helpful and constructive ways, but sometimes they can be misleading and dangerous.
In certain situations, it’s better to disengage from our emotional instincts rather than act on them impulsively without questioning them or challenging them.
One technique used to challenge these destructive emotions is called “opposite action.” The key idea behind “opposite action” is that every emotion comes with an action tendency.
- Anger often causes us to lash out and be aggressive, whether verbally or physically.
- Sadness often causes us to isolate ourselves and not want to do anything.
- Fear often causes us to run away or avoid a situation.
- Shame often causes us to hide.
Often by following this “action tendency” we only strengthen the emotion and get trapped in a vicious, negative cycle.
However, when you know your emotions are working against you, try to do the exact opposite action from what your emotions are telling you.
One common situation this is useful for is when you are sad and you don’t want to go out with your friends. While this is a completely natural feeling, sometimes it is better to drag yourself out with your friends anyway – do the opposite action. Often you end up feeling glad that you did, even if at first you were hesitant about it.
In the same way, doing the “opposite action” in response to other emotions can help us reverse those feelings:
- When angry at a person, do something kind for them instead.
- When too afraid to try something new, do it anyway.
- When sad and you don’t want to leave your bed, get up and get outside despite your feelings.
- When shameful about something you want to hide, be open and share it with others anyway.
This is all easier said than done. But when you focus on the “opposite action” from what these unhelpful emotions are telling you, then you’ll have an easier time ending their cycle.
This technique helps you to not become a slave to your emotions. Just because you feel one way doesn’t mean you have to act on it to relieve yourself.
We wrongly believe that we need to wait until we feel right before we take the right action. However, sometimes we need to take the right action before we can change the flow of our emotions.
Sometimes you should be kind to others, not because you want to be kind to them, but because that’s the smart thing to do if you want to keep yourself healthy and your emotions in check.
Here’s another example. Say you are ashamed about your weight, or a bad grade you got on a test, or some other problem in your life. The “action tendency” behind shame is usually to hide from these things, but the truth is when we talk about our problems we usually feel better about them.
Often you need to do things you don’t want to do before you can realize that’s exactly what you needed. Can you think of an example when doing the “opposite action” made you feel better?
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