Feelings are just a signal. It’s what you DO with them that counts.

I’ve re-learned a big life lesson this week – what it has done is shown me that although we think we know certain things … it’s all too easy to fall back into traps of habit, and into unproductive thoughts and practices that can hold us back.

The scenario? Well, it’s one that I’m sure many will be familiar with – feeling dissatisfied with a specific situation, and giving way to having a good old moan about it.

Here’s the thing. Those feelings of dissatisfaction are just the start: it’s how you think and what you do about them (and the situation) that makes the difference.

 

Emotions are the signal

Studies into human behaviour and emotional intelligence indicate quite clearly that people will respond to situations and other factors instinctively first, emotionally second … and logically only after that.

A few years ago, I had just finished delivering a training session at a shipyard in Glasgow one winter’s day, and, as I walked back to my car, a lad on the other side of the road threw a snowball at me. My initial reaction was instinctive – to put up my hands to protect my face from the incoming missile. Unfortunately, I wasn’t quite quick enough, and the snowball caught me squarely on the face. My second reaction was an emotional one – I shouted angrily and in none-too-flattering terms at the culprit across the road. It was only several minutes later that I thought rationally about the scenario – the lad had probably been dared by his friends to throw the snowball at me, and hadn’t expected to hit me at all, let alone right in the face. In the circumstances, it was actually a remarkably good shot.

So what does any of this mean in day-to-day life? To my mind, it’s this. Feelings and emotions (in this case, I’m considering negative feelings in particular, but the same is true of any) are merely a signal. They’re a little warning light that something isn’t quite right.

It’s too easy to get stuck in the ‘feelings’ of a situation, and not to move on – but this will lead to feelings of being a victim, feelings of hopelessness, feelings of blame and so on. Focusing entirely and solely on negative feelings themselves will lead to a downward spiral of moaning and self pity. That’s not useful to anyone. And I’m talking to myself here, as much as to anyone.

 

Think about it

At some point, it really does become necessary to get a grip and to try to think rationally about the situation.
I’m not talking about stifling your feelings or ignoring them – I’m taking about acknowledging them … which may mean admitting to yourself that you have the feelings at all … and then thinking through them.

Key questions to ask yourself might be:

  • When did this situation start?
  • When did I first notice it … and what did I do about it at that stage?
  • Why am I unhappy with it?
  • Have I contributed to the situation? Have I let this happen?
  • And crucially, whether or not I’ve contributed to the situation … WHAT AM I GOING TO DO ABOUT IT?

 

Do something

It’s just a casual observation, but I think an accurate one, that some people are happier grumbling about a given situation than actually taking steps to do anything about it.

I used to work in an organisation where almost everyone complained about the management culture … and yet no one was prepared to even stand up as a group do anything at all to challenge it. Perhaps people enjoyed blaming senior management and positioning themselves as the helpless victims – misery loves company, after all.

There’s almost always SOMETHING you can do to impact your situation. If you can’t change it, then you may need to move out of it altogether, or to develop coping strategies.

 

Whichever approach is best for you, look to develop a plan of action of some sort that will have you stepping up to address your own issues … rather than wallowing in negative emotions and dragging yourself and everyone around you down.

Whilst it can be a personal challenge, DO SOMETHING to bring about change. At the very least, you will feel empowered and in some control of your own destiny. At best, you’ll change your situation for the better, and develop yourself in the process.

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3 Responses to “Feelings are just a signal. It’s what you DO with them that counts.”

  1. coeliaclibrarian Says:

    This is a really timely reminder to me – and it is about something that I need to work on. I often give the impression that I am resisting a situation over which I have little or no control because I complain about it.
    In my case it is the kinds of questions I am asked because of my role which appear to me to have just been asked to make a point. Sometimes this is exactly why they have been asked. The less stressful situation is to understand why the question has been asked and just answer it without sighing or moaning about the silliness of the question. By doing the latter I give the impression of not understanding when actually I am fully aware of the situation, and I also show myself as a complainer and wind myself up.
    I will try and remember (while counting to 10 sometimes) that I know the answer and can just give it without any performance on my part.

    Thanks for the reminder that I can keep control over my response to a situation even though I cannot keep control over what has caused the situation in the first place.

  2. coeliaclibrarian Says:

    This is a really timely reminder to me – and it is about something that I need to work on. I often give the impression that I am resisting a situation over which I have little or no control because I complain about it.
    In my case it is the kinds of questions I am asked because of my role which appear to me to have just been asked to make a point. Sometimes this is exactly why they have been asked. The less stressful situation is to understand why the question has been asked and just answer it without sighing or moaning about the silliness of the question. By doing the latter I give the impression of not understanding when actually I am fully aware of the situation, and I also show myself as a complainer and wind myself up.
    I will try and remember (while counting to 10 sometimes) that I know the answer and can just give it without any performance on my part.

    Thanks for the reminder that I can keep control over my response to a situation even though I cannot keep control over what has caused the situation in the first place.

    (If this has repeated my comment please delete it, I wasn’t logged in the first time)

  3. AnnabelleB Says:

    Thanks very much for your comment – I’m glad the blog post was useful to you! As always, I was talking to myself as much as anyone else here: it does take will power to work through a negative emotional response, and you raise the very valuable point about how, if we get stuck in this state, we can come across to others.

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