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Monday, October 28, 2002

Feelings and Action

My wife is on the phone with our son, and as I walk through the room, I overhear her tell him, “Honeybun, you can’t wait for your feelings to change. You have to act first and the feelings will follow. That’s the way it works, and it’s what I always tell my clients.”

It sure is handy being married to a shrink. Those words ring like a bell! She might as well have been speaking to me. I’m nearly addicted to the practice of waiting for my feelings to change in order to undertake something that I’m neglecting. You’d think that by now I would have learned the lesson, but habitual behaviors--especially habits of thought processes—die hard.

I recall the acting classes I took back in college. The directors would say, “If you want to feel angry or loving or confused because that’s the way that your character is supposed to be feeling, then do the things with your body that an angry or loving or confused person does. The feelings will follow.”

This raises an interesting proposition: perhaps the question I should be asking myself is, “How do I want to feel?” rather than “What do I want done?” We’re so wedded to results-orientation in this get-it-done society that it seems almost ridiculous to entertain such a proposition. It suggests that my real message is, “Screw it. Let’s roll a joint.”

No! No! What I’m suggesting is that when I look only at what I want done, there’s always the possibility that I won’t feel like doing it. That immediately puts me in conflict with myself. “Overcome” my feelings or feel like shit because I failed. We have a lot of hard-asses in this culture who “overcome” their feelings. The better they are at this, the greater their heroic status. It’s practically a religion.

If I look instead at how I want to feel and take the action that produces the feeling, I’m in complete harmony with myself. No conflict and no failure. Needed results get handled. A subtle difference, perhaps, but one of substance.

Glad I walked past my wife when I did!

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