Wise Effort

Pushing back against uncomfortable feelings is unwise for two reasons: (1) there is no switch that turns them off, and (2) trying and failing to squelch them makes them worse. Wisdom is knowing how to relate to them. 

Being anxious about anxiety compounds anxiety. Being angry at yourself for getting angry obstructs learning to act skillfully when angry. Thinking you are worthless for having low self-esteem is practicing low self-esteem. 

I think of emotions as the color of life, hence the title of chapter nine in my book, Living Well with ADHD. There is a certain beauty in the full range of emotion. Watching a sunset brings on what you may label as a “good feeling,” and it is no less fleeting than a “bad feeling.” Having a friendly relationship with an uncomfortable feeling allows you to learn from your experience; whereas, believing that it is a problem leads to unwise effort and more discomfort, not less. For example, revenge may bring temporary comfort, but vengeful thought and action feeds anger in the long run. Self-defeating action usually follows. 

Realistic and non-judgmental appraisal in the face of momentary discomfort is wisdom. Labeling feelings as good or bad is just extra thinking. The labeling doesn’t change anything for the better. You can feel bad about a mistake or failure without questioning your worth. You can only start (or re-start) right where you are. Accepting the uncomfortable feeling allows you to put the wheels back on the tracks promptly without unnecessary suffering.  

Judging performance is not the same as judging the self. If you cannot accept the discomfort of a disappointing performance, you will not learn anything from it. If the “self” is to blame, you will either criticize that self, or feel sorry for the poor thing…neither is productive.

What is the self anyway? It helps me to think of “self” as my own construction, an image I’ve created, one that I sometimes color with certainty about what others are thinking. After all, I’m an expert on what other people are thinking about me at any given time…aren’t you? Embracing certainty about what others are thinking is an example of unwise effort.

Uncomfortable feelings have value and should be respected. If you can be curious about them, and get up close enough to notice what those sensations really are, you might discover that they that are actually tolerable. In a sense, they are empty of content except for your conjecture. The notion that they are intolerable is just something you say to yourself while tolerating them.

Try this: Next time you get a shot or have blood drawn, turn your attention toward the needle’s prick instead of away from it. Get up close and discover what the nature of your pain actually is when you allow it. You just might relate differently to it, even though that brief insertion of a needle is no different than before. 

Feelings are just feelings. When you try not to have them, you will think and act unskillfully. “If you’re not willing to have them, you will,” says Steven Hayes, author of Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life. Willingness to experience life fully requires acceptance of your experience as it is…including your feelings as they are. 

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