“I feel ready. Now I can act.” The order of those phrases sounds logical. First you feel ready and then you act on that feeling. No obvious controversy there. Yet some of the common phrases we toss around in everyday conversation are not only inaccurate, but they also negatively affect our abilities to accomplish what we desire. This is often used in terms of assessing our motivation to do something difficult. In this example, waiting to feel motivated (or ready) will most often prevent you from accomplishing something that you never knew was possible. In fact reversing the order of those original ideas is often more accurate and advantageous. I decide to act and then I notice my feelings changing.
The reality is that we have a dynamic relationship between our feelings and our actions. It is not a linear one-way street. It might be easier to act once you have started to feel a certain way that is in accordance with that planned action: I feel happy and now it is easier to act happy. So it takes extra effort to act first and wait for your feelings to follow, but exerting that effort can increase your confidence dramatically. After all, when you decide to act before your feelings reassure you first, that is a practical way to exercise more control in your life. If you wait to feel motivated or “ready,” it can seem like you are waiting for something to happen over which you have little control.
When you choose to act in a way that is inconsistent with your feelings, your brain tries to resolve the conflicting information. This is the whole idea behind physical relaxation techniques like deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation (PMR). In an anxious state (your mind is thinking anxious thoughts, your emotions are dominated by fear, your body feels tense) you can decide to act in a way that resembles a relaxed state (slow, deep breathes and relaxing your tense muscles). When you do this your brain receives conflicting information that your body is not in agreement with your anxious thoughts and feelings. The result is that your brain attempts to achieve agreement by adjusting the more ambiguous states (“what if” thoughts, fearful feelings) to match the more certain state that your physical body is now experiencing (slower breathing, relaxed muscles, etc.).
So the next time you are faced with the question of whether or not you feel motivated to do something:
- Instead of asking “Do I feel motivated or ready to act?”
- Try asking “Am I willing to act despite my current feelings?”
You might be surprised at what you can accomplish when you act first and notice your feelings changing afterward.
Shawn Healy, PhD