Emotions can be powerful determinants of our actions and behaviors. Usually this is a good thing. If you’re walking in the woods, and come across a dangerous predator, you feel fear. Your fear motivates you to stop and run the other way.
However, sometimes our emotions can lead us in a direction that isn’t in our best interests. I remember talking with a woman who was very fearful about dirt, germs, and contamination. She would go to great lengths to make sure her food and house were clean, often washing herself and her food for long periods of time. Her fear was driving her behavior, but this wasn’t in her best interests. Her elaborate washing rituals were causing distress, and getting in the way of her living the life she wanted.
I felt that way this past summer as I was preparing to get married. At times, I felt fear about moving forward into marriage, and the commitment that was involved. Fear is a powerful emotion that motivates escape or avoidance, so there were times I felt like my emotions were telling me to “Get Out!!”
But getting out wasn’t in my best interests. I knew that, my counselor knew that, everybody knew that. It would have been a mistake to listen to my fear and let it determine my actions and behaviors. I would have missed out on an awesome relationship and the next step in my growth.
This is a pretty common experience. Maybe you can relate. Emotions are powerful motivators. But they don’t always lead us in the direction we need to go. Sometimes they are helpful (e.g., escaping the predator in the woods) and sometimes they aren’t helpful (e.g., the woman who cleaned too much, me wanting to escape commitment). We need to be thoughtful about our emotions, and consider the direction they are leading us.
Here is a principle I have found helpful: Notice your feelings, but make a good decision anyways. First, notice your feelings. Pay attention to them. Practice being able to identify your emotions. Get comfortable sharing what you are feeling with your family and friends. Our emotions are powerful, and they can teach us important lessons about what is happening in our lives.
But don’t let your emotions run your life. Remember, our emotions can be helpful to us, but they can also lead us in the wrong direction. Don’t react too quickly to your feelings. Sit with your emotions, and reflect on what they can teach you about yourself. Then think about what action or behavior is in your best interest. Move forward toward that, even if you feel an emotion pulling you in the other direction.