“Heard joke once: Man goes to doctor. Says he’s depressed. Says life seems harsh and cruel. Says he feels all alone in a threatening world where what lies ahead is vague and uncertain. Doctor says, “Treatment is simple. Great clown Pagliacci is in town tonight. Go and see him. That should pick you up.” Man bursts into tears. Says, “But doctor…I am Pagliacci.” ― Alan Moore,
I’m sure you’ve experienced some, if not a lot of, negative emotions throughout your life.
And I’m also sure you wished you could make them stop or go away.
If you are like the majority of people, me included, you’ve tried to numb them using anything from social media to drugs or socializing or even becoming a workaholic.
That, of course, didn’t work.
You can’t numb emotions –they will come back stronger. (See: 3 Good Emotions That Most People Think are Bad)
You’ll feel better for a while but in the end, the bad feelings intensify.
Experts and self-development writers tell you to work on solving the root causes of your bad feelings. In other words, they ask you to face your life’s problems.
And that’s right; you must do that.
However, that makes you feel even worse. As you start working on facing your own demons, all the uncomfortable emotions will attack you and you must deal with them. No numbing.
Again, you get told that you must withstand those painful feelings.
And, again, that’s right and you have to do it.
But it’s painfully difficult. And sometimes, many of us take it to extremes.
So, you got an idea of how the process of facing the negative emotions looks like. Not pretty, I know.
And in this article, I’m going to try to make it prettier.
No, actually! I can’t do that. Don’t believe anyone who tells you that.
I’m just going to make it more realistic. I’m going to make it doable and more practical.
First, let’s understand a few facts about emotions
The negative emotions anatomy
Emotions, positive or negative, are judgements and feedback. Here we are focusing on the negative emotions, of course. The negative feedback.
So, negative emotions are negative feedback. Your brain is giving you this negative feedback about something that it doesn’t like.
We can say that most of the negative emotions that we feel are coming from the fact that something is wrong.
Sometimes there’s something wrong. Sometimes it’s just our perception. And other times it’s both.
For instance, loneliness is felt when we feel that we need human connection. Depression happens when we believe that we can’t achieve our important goals.
Boredom is a sign that what you are doing isn’t that interesting to you.
Dissatisfaction and disappointment happen when we don’t meet our expectations. Guilt happens when we violate our values and do something that we believe is wrong.
Anxiety happens when we feel we don’t have the necessary skills or resources to cope with a specific situation.
Sudden mood swings happen when we avoid solving our problems for a long time –your mind reminds you of all that shit you’ve been avoiding by making you feel like shit. Don’t believe that? Try doing what you’ve been avoiding and see how you would feel (we’ll get into that in seconds).
And so on.
What’s the solution?
Based on what we’ve just mentioned, the way to deal with these negative emotions is by taking actions that would solve the problems that are causing these emotions.
Just like when you feel hungry, you eat. When you feel thirsty, you drink. When your smartphone’s battery drains, you charge it. It’s almost the same here, it’s just a bit more difficult.
You have to do something. You have to take the feedback seriously and respond by improving and changing a few things.
For one, if you feel lonely most of the time, then you need to work on your social life and social skills. This way, loneliness will start going away.
You have to figure out the source of the emotions, the negative feedback, and take actions to make some changes.
I’m familiar with the bad feelings that come when you procrastinate and put off important tasks. And I can tell you that they don’t go away unless I start working and doing what really matters.
So, the point is, you have to do something. You have to work on solving the problems in your life that are causing your brain to give you negative feedback. That’s what you gotta do!
But there’s a problem. It’s not easy. There are shorter ways to induce pleasure and good feelings without having to do any effort.
Why do the tough things to feel good when you just can get immediate pleasure?
That’s a serious question and we need to take it into consideration. After all, it’s a human nature to seek the easier options.
Having a third option
Now we understand that negative emotions require actions in order for them to go away.
But if we could find a shorter way to feel good, it’d be better.
And that’s where the instant gratification comes into play.
There will be a clash between the easy fix (the instant gratification) and the real solution (taking action and changing something).
Let’s see how it goes:
There’s an easy fix. Short term pleasures: Facebook, porn, alcohol, drugs, relationships …etc.
And there’s a real solution, which is working on your solving your problems. However, it’s hard.
You need to do the real, difficult solution. And you need to avoid the shortcuts mentioned above.
To do that, we need to replace the short-term solution with another Healthy short-term solution (e.g. exercising).
Then, we need, after we start feeling a little bit better, to work on the hard solution.
It’s hard to work on the long-term, difficult solution immediately. It’s doable but extremely difficult. So, we need to ease the negative emotions using a healthy short-term solution (not a harmful one such as watching porn) and then work on fixing the real life’s problems that are bugging us.
This way, we’re building on success. We’re building on positive and strong emotions. Maybe much more like building momentum!
The story that inspired this article and how I applied this
I was feeling pretty bad.
I don’t remember exactly why I was feeling bad, but I guess it had something to do with the work.
After hundreds of excuses for why I can’t workout, I finally joined a gym near the place in which I work. I finish the work and I go to hit some iron. Tiring but it’s better than nothing.
So, that day I was on my way to the gym. I had a lot on my mind and I was feeling like shit.
I hesitated for a while at the door of the gym. I kind of didn’t want to enter. All I wanted to do was to go home and do meaningless stuff that would change my mood.
I wanted to complain about how meaningless the life was and how my life sucked. I really wanted to do that. I wanted to whine. I wanted to scream. And deep inside, I felt like a failure because I’d been procrastinating and avoiding some important tasks.
At that moment, based on what we discussed above, what I need to do was taking some serious actions to solve the problems I’d been avoiding.
But that wasn’t easy. I was feeling totally like garbage. But, here’s what happened:
I got inside the gym, changed my clothes, worked out, dressed up, and left the gym. Yes, it took me some willpower to do that but it’s less than the willpower that it would’ve taken me to start working on my problems.
Surprisingly, just after I left the gym, my mood changed. Maybe because I’d done something good (momentum!) or maybe because I was feeling stronger.
Anyway, I was in a better place. From that place, I was better prepared to work on my problems and solve the real root reasons for my negative emotions.
And I did. Momentum is amazingly powerful. Let alone the power of being in a better state of mind.
That’s where this article came from.
Always have 3 choices
It can be pretty difficult to work on your problems and you are already feeling intense negative emotions. Usually, to ease these negative emotions, we turn to drug-like activities (social media, gossiping, porn, video games, binging on series …etc.) or actual drugs or alcohol.
We turn to these things because we think they would make us feel a bit better. At least, they would numb us for a while.
However, that’s counter-productive.
We have 2 paths. The easiest one is about instant gratification. The hardest one is working on the actual problem.
The easy path drowns us even deeper. The hard path requires a lot of willpower and mental toughness that some people might not have at that painful and vulnerable moment –I know I didn’t.
But never have 2 choices. Always have, at least, 3 choices. That’s why we need a third path. So, we go down the middle. A mid-term solution.
It requires less mental toughness and willpower than the hard path and more mental toughness and willpower than the easy path. And at the same time, it helps us walk further from the easy path and closer to the hard path.
In the example above, it was exercising. It could be other things. I sometimes socialize and talk to people I care about. I sometimes pray. Other times I write my thoughts and meditate.
And it doesn’t have to happen from the first time.
(Side note: Sometimes you have to do these things regularly, regardless of how hard they might be, to create that momentum and be in a better place emotionally. A better place where you can muster up the strength to get up and fight back.)
It’s not an actual solution to my life’s problems. But it gives me a push and helps me become stronger to solve my real problems.
Plus, I know exactly how it feels like to go down the easy path and follow the instant gratification. It never worked. Every time I feel even worse and feel like I now have more problems than I initially had.
Do what works for you. Anything that’s healthy and that would make you feel stronger. Think of it as a healthy distraction that would actually help you solve your biggest problems.
Yes, it would require some willpower to do. But that’s the point. That will power and momentum are what would make you stronger. Moreover, you would feel a lot better –at least less bad. That, in turn, would help you get up and do something. And trust me, it’s a lot better than turning to instant pleasure and meaningless distractions.