Did you ever notice that reacting to your emotions can actually make them worse? For example, let’s suppose that you are really ticked off. And when you get ticked off, you clench your fists and raise your voice. Have you noticed that the more you clench your fists and raise your voice, the angrier you get? Now let’s suppose you are feeling really sad, and you just want to sleep, isolate—and crawl in your bed and never come out. Have you noticed that the more you sleep and isolate, the sadder you feel? Or let’s suppose you are terrified of your boss, and you prefer to avoid her at all costs. Have you noticed that the more you avoid your boss, the more you become scared of her?
In other words, the more we react to certain emotions, the worse they get! Any emotion that gets worse when you react to it is called a “trigger emotion.” A “problem urge” is what you feel like doing whenever you have that particular emotion. As we saw in the previous paragraph, the more we have certain emotions, the more we have certain urges. And the more we act on those urges, the more difficult it becomes to manage those emotions. Do you see what’s happening here? You’re stuck in a trap!
I call this trap the “Stupid Cycle.” We all get stuck in the Stupid Cycle. Getting stuck in the stupid cycle doesn’t mean, of course, that you are actually stupid. It simply means that you are probably not using your Balanced Mind whenever you get stuck in this trap!
So how do we get out of the Stupid Cycle? So glad you asked! It’s much easier—and harder—than you think. On one hand, it’s a really simple concept: All you have to do to get out of the Stupid Cycle is the exact opposite of what you feel like doing. On the other hand, this is a really, really difficult concept to apply: No one wants to do the exact opposite of what they feel like doing! So even though Acting Opposite is a really easy concept to understand, learning to apply it is a quite a different story—and requires LOTS of practice and willingness.
Let me throw out a few more terms. On one hand, I define “Stupid Stubbornness” as doing whatever we want, even if it’s not working—and even if we hurt ourselves in the process. On the other hand, I define “Smart Stubbornness” as doing whatever it takes to get the job done—whether we like it or not. Those concepts should ring a bell as you think about the Stupid Cycle. Acting on the Problem Urge is an example of Stupid Stubbornness: It doesn’t work and it only makes things worse—but it’s what we want to do! However, Acting Opposite is an example of Smart Stubbornness: You don’t want to do it, but you do it anyway. Why? Because it works!
But before we start practicing this new skill, I want to make a few quick points. First of all, did you notice that I called these emotions “trigger emotions” and not “negative emotions”? That’s because not all trigger emotions feel negative. In fact, some feel positive! For example, did you ever make poor decisions when you fell in love with someone too quickly? Another reason I did not use the term “negative emotions” is because with some trigger emotions, you don’t feel anything at all! For example, did you ever make poor decisions when you were feeling bored or numb? And a final reason I did not use the term “negative emotions” is because I did not want to imply the myth that some emotions are bad and therefore should be avoided. As we have learned in earlier blog posts, ALL emotions (even the ones we don’t like) provide extremely valuable functions.
A final point I want to make before you get started with some practice is this: Of course doing the opposite of what you really want to do will not feel natural. Of course you will feel “fake” when you are just barely learning to act opposite. And that’s exactly why I call this skill “acting” opposite! It’s okay if you feel like you are just acting or faking it. This is what I tell my own clients: “Fake it till you make it!”