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How to Flip Things Around: Act as You Would Like to Feel

How to Flip Things Around: Act as You Would Like to Feel
Image by notsogoodphotography (license).

“Between stimulus and response is the freedom to choose.”
Viktor Frankl

If something happens in your everyday life that could trigger negative emotions and behaviour on your part, what do you do? If you feel lazy or uninspired or angry and hateful, what do you do?

One way to handle such situations is to act as you would like to feel.

Let’s say that someone you know is having success. Maybe s/he’s gotten a promotion at work or finally paid off his/her debt. Perhaps that person is doing better than you in school.

Maybe you get angry or envious. Perhaps you start trash talking the other person. That’s not uncommon. It’s also a pretty reactive behaviour. And deep down you probably don’t want to take that negative route. Well, you don’t have to.

Make a conscious choice

You can choose what actions you want to take. Sure, your emotions, thoughts and old behaviour patterns might give you clear signals to become envious whenever someone gets some success. But you are not your thoughts and emotions. You are the observer of them. You can choose to not take the easy and well-known path of just following along with the signals your body is giving you.

Instead, whenever you find yourself in a situation that would trigger negative feelings and behaviour, you can remind yourself to choose to act as you would like to feel.

Instead of getting envious and start trash talking you can congratulate the person and support him/her. Or just choose to think positive thoughts about him/her.

And soon it’s not just you choosing to act you would like to feel. You actually start to feel positive and supportive in a genuine way. And now you can keep doing things that are naturally aligned with how you feel. You can shift envious feelings and behaviour into positive and supportive thoughts and behaviour for the rest of the day or week.

How to make your choice easier

A simple few tips to help you use that space between stimulus and reaction to make a conscious choice:

  • Stay conscious. One way of doing that is counting to 10. This gives you time to become conscious of what’s happening and actually be able to choose a response instead of falling into an old, habitual and unconscious response. Like lashing out when feeling like you are under attack. You can also try taking a dozen belly breaths. It’s a quick way to bring some calmness into your body and mind and relax them a bit.
  • Identify less with your thoughts and emotions. Making the choice becomes quite a bit easier if you identify less with your streams of thoughts and emotions. You won’t get pulled along and get stuck in them. I highly recommend checking out Eckhart Tolle´s book “A New Earth” for more on this. Not taking things too seriously can also be a big help to not get so wrapped up in emotions and thoughts and to get more conscious control over how you act.
  • Think about what is in it for you. One good way to make the choice easier is to repeatedly remind yourself what’s in it for you by feeling, thinking and acting this new way compared to your old ways of doing things. You might even want to write a few of the most important reasons down on a piece of paper and put it somewhere where you can’t avoid seeing it.
  • Practise. I think one big problem that people have is simply that on a conscious level they might think some piece of advice sounds interesting and they want to try it out. But on some other level their mind resists and goes “well, this isn’t have we’ve been doing things for the last few decades. It seems unknown and scary. Why try it when what we have been doing all along has kept us safe and worked out pretty well?”
    With practise things become easier because you and your mind find the behaviour and thoughts more and more natural.

Is this just an ineffective band-aid?

Now, acting like you want to feel might sound like you are faking it. Or like you’re just putting on a happy face to cover up a problem.

I don’t see it as a way to ignore problems, but rather as a way to face them – if they are really there – in the most constructive way you can rather than for instance falling into victim thinking. You may, for example, choose to take confident actions to resolve your challenge even though you may feel like a victim who has the whole world against him/her.

If the problem isn’t really all that much out there, but more of a complicated monster created in your own mind then you can choose to lessen or stop the amount of time you spend creating and feeding this problem.

And yeah, it might feel fake to not be envious anymore at someone else’s success. But that’s because it feels unusual and unfamiliar to you right now. How you choose to act and feel does over time become more and more of a natural behaviour for you. Until one day when you hear of someone’s success and your reflex reaction may be to feel happy for that person.

Acting as you would like to feel isn’t a magic pill. It won’t solve all your problems. But it can be a quick way to change your mood in your day to day life and not get stuck in downward spirals. It can be a way to develop a habit of more easily doing what you think is “right thing”. It can be a way to learn to be more in control of your life rather than just reacting to what everyone else is doing. And in the long term it can be a way to help you develop new “default” thoughts, feelings and behaviours.

What is your experience with acting as you’d like to feel?

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  • myln September 15, 2008, 4:23 pm

    How we want to feel is all in our mind. If we want to feel happy about someone Else’s happiness then our mind should instruct us to do so. The good think is that we can ‘teach’ our mind certain rules in order to make our life easier. Positive thinking is always the best and most appropriate way to start.

    Great post!

  • Connie Brooks September 15, 2008, 5:23 pm

    I this this is excellent advice. It goes right along with “make yourself smile when you feel sad”. Our minds do really well with external cues.

    Another thing I would suggest, if possible is to slightly change locations when you are having a hard time. Move to a different room, or even just a few feet away from the person causing the negative response. Then take a few moments to reset yourself into a new attitude.

    Excellent article. I’m going to try this today, and see if I can make a difference.

  • Shanel Yang September 15, 2008, 5:24 pm

    I live in L.A. and we sometimes have a problem at major intersections or freeway offramps with people who stand there and suddenly wash your windshield for you and expect you to “tip” them for their troubles. The problem is most of us don’t want this service. But, they know that. They also know that if they ignore our “no’s” and do it anyway, most of us feel too scared, guilty, or nice to not pay them once they get started. As drivers and passengers, we are held hostage by the red light or the poor victim in front of us having his/her windshield forcibly washed. It’s intimidating and frustrating.

    This weekend, when I drove to Koreatown, my boyfriend was driving my car and I was in the passenger seat when this very thing happened. The huge angry looking man with the squeegee approached us and I waved my hands and said “no” loudly and clearly several times. He ignored me. My boyfriend weakly waved “no” from the driver’s side. I don’t know if the man saw my boyfriend’s gesture. I know he saw and heard me because after he was done cleaning the windshield anyway against my clear request that he not do that — and he realized we were not going to pay him — he began to yell at me about is this my car (b/c I was in the passenger seat). I was so surprised and puzzled by the question that I didn’t answer for a while. Then, I did answer and said, “Yes.” By that time, he was already expecting me to say “no,” so he concluded with his big finish punchline: “Well, then shut the f*** up! It’s his car! [pointing to my boyfriend] He can say what he wants or doesn’t want. It’s not your car. You can shut the f*** up!” That’s why most people let them wash their windshields and then pay them with dollar bills for their troubles.

    Anyway, in the past I would let that ruin my whole day. But, this time, I wanted to just laugh it off. So, even though I didn’t feel like it, I did smile and laugh at it. In the past I would have gotten mad at the driver for being so ineffective in communicating a simple “no,” but I wanted to be cool and let it go as if it was no big deal. So, even though I didn’t feel like doing that at first, I forced myself to act like I did. And, you know what? It worked! Slowly but surely, the bad feelings lifted and wafted away. I actually forgot all about it till I read this article. Thanks, Henrik, for another great post!

  • Dereck Coatney September 15, 2008, 11:54 pm

    This is terrific material, especially the section, “Make a conscious choice”

    Great job.

  • richard fan September 16, 2008, 6:48 am

    i love your blog
    you best post is “just do it”
    every word written there was about me

    however, here, i think you are contradicting yourself

    “we are not our emotions” and then you ask us to replace it with another emotion

    I think the key is a combination of Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman
    and Constructive Living by David K Reynolds

    Acknowledge the initial emotion (happens to be negative)
    accepting the situation
    and then acting accordingly
    i believe a lot of negative emotions comes from irrational thinking
    so, if we are having negative emotions due to irrational thinking
    then we should acknowledge those negative emotions
    address the irrational thinking with rational thinking
    then use rational thinking to have AUTHENTIC neutral/positive emotions
    e.g. we did our best, or we are human & make mistakes some times etc

    “jealous b’cos someone else is doing better in a course”
    firstly, are we even interested in the course?
    is the course important to us?
    do we have the skills to do well in the course?
    did we put in the hard work required?
    if we examine our irrational thinking we can then replace them with Real Emotions
    e.g. i didn’t put in the hard work required like the other guy, so i don’t deserve to do better, even though i am supposedly more interested in the subject matter. so he deserves all the success

    once we accept the REALITY of the situation we can accept our TRUE emotions

    and then take the necessary action that the situation requires

  • Alex Fayle | Someday Syndrome September 16, 2008, 8:09 am

    When surfing blogs, I often come across success stories and I experience a pang of envy, but then I think “wow, they must have done a whole lot of work to get here. Now, back to work, Alex.”

    And then there’s my mood – often I wake up in the morning grumpy and sometimes sad. I write down all the reasons I feel low, then write down all the reasons I feel happy, then I choose to be happy (because the happy list is always longer). Within half-an-hour I’ve forgotten I was feeling low at all.

  • giddi September 16, 2008, 11:23 am

    great post – you are encouraging positivity and constructive thinking. In a world where there is a lot of bitterness, depression and sadness this is a breath of fresh air.

    I especially like the ‘observer of emotions’ part. I will try it though it might take a long while for it to be a habit.

    Keep up the good work!!

  • Dr.John Whitney September 16, 2008, 3:44 pm

    Thank you for the best advice on dealing with troubled emotions. If skeptics need proof, get scientific validity in “The Biology of Belief”, by Bruce Lipton PhD
    Great stuff, please keep it up.

  • Henrik Edberg September 16, 2008, 3:59 pm

    Thanks for all the feedback!

    Connie: That´s a simple and useful tip. Thanks!

    Richard fan: What I mean with “you are not your emotions” is to not get 100% wrapped up in your emotions. To keep in mind that the feelings (or thoughts) are just something that are passing through your right now and is a part of you but not something you need to identify with completely. As you say, “i believe a lot of negative emotions comes from irrational thinking”. I think so too. To realize that you are not just your thoughts or feelings lets you take a step back and observe the feelings and thoughts and see if they are useful for you. Instead of getting overwhelmed by them.

    You can just observe the feelings and go “oh, there are those negative and irritated feelings again” and then take action to change those feelings. Rather than getting totally wrapped up in them and become more and more irritated until your whole day is ruined or you explode over something that is actually pretty trivial. Check out Eckhart Tolle´s books for more on this.

  • thatcoolbroad September 16, 2008, 4:40 pm

    I love the “fake it ’till you make it” theory and totally buy into it, though I’d never thought to apply in this manner. If I’m feeling a bit insecure or self-conscious, I fake being confident…stand up straight and tall and “fake it”. Before you know it, I’m there!

    I reference one of your articles on jealousy in a post I wrote called, “How to turn that ugly green-eyed monster into a very Cool Broad.” And this tip could totally be added to that list of strategies.


  • Chase Barfield September 16, 2008, 4:56 pm

    I agree with your post. I like your actionable steps. What you are telling people to do is to become self aware. This is difficult for most. But, as you point out, things get easier with practice. Once you begin listening to your body and paying attention to your habits, it becomes quite simple.

    Also, keep this in mind everyone. When someone angers you or an unfortunate event happens in your life, ask yourself, “what will it accomplish to get angry?” People are normally more productive when anger does not alter their perception. And when another is trying to anger you, remember that by becoming angry, they achieved their goal and won.

  • viki September 16, 2008, 8:12 pm

    the secret :D!

  • Trevor Wynn September 17, 2008, 12:16 am

    If you liked the Secret you don’t want to miss The Opus. It’s not a Secret Anymore, The next step has arrived. The OPUS follows up to the questions left behind in the law of attraction. It features many familiar faces from The Secret. (Jack Canfield, John Demartini, Morris Goodman, Bob Doyle, Joe Vitale, Marci Shimoff, Mark Victor Hansen and others.) http://www.TheOpusMovie.com

  • Leighna September 17, 2008, 11:17 pm

    Great article — I’ve been thinking about this subject a lot lately: letting yourself really feel the emotions you’re feeling vs. putting positive energy out there/over the emotion. And I was struggling with the whole “fakeness” of it. But making the connection with choice solves the problem because there’s nothing fake about a choice you make. Its a real, tangible conscious decision. Thank you — very enlightening!

  • StaciFrost September 20, 2008, 11:26 pm

    When I can remember to do it I really benefit from turning negativity around. Like any other “unnatural” way of thinking it requires practice.

    I try to start my day asking myself “What do I get to do today,” instead of, “What do I have to do today,” and believe it or not it works over time. I find myself looking for the positive things in the day instead of dreading what I normally perceive as negative things.

    Thanks for the additional perspective on how to use this tool :-)

  • Michael K June 17, 2009, 9:03 pm

    My compliments on your article, Mr. Edberg. This is the best single mental health article/advise I have ever read in my career as a mental health counselor. You give practical application for the common ailment of distressing emotions. To the degree I employ your advice, it works for me. I reckon that the most accomplished people on earth probably ‘flip things around and act as they would like to feel’.

  • Confused June 22, 2009, 7:32 am

    These tips are great! They do work for me, but I often can’t help but fall back into the circuit of negative emotions… I feel that when you’re “faking” the positive emotion that you’re in a sense, lying to yourself and other people, and then that makes me feel bad, because when I’m “lying” about how I feel about something, I don’t get to say how I really feel, and release those emotions that I am experiencing. So I’m just confused as to how exactly it works. I know it’s beneficial, because it has worked for me, but because it doesn’t always work I want to know if there is something more to replacing negative emotions with positive ones.

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