Stuck? Try not acting.

Sometimes the worst thing you can do is act

When you are spinning your wheels, one temptation is to buckle down and work harder (the other is to avoid; more on that later). Much more often than not, that pushing will fail give you the results you want.

When you push, you do so because something feels bad. Trying to push yourself to act while you feel bad is inefficient and detrimental to your goals. Why? Three reasons:

  1. Your action will be “underfunded.” When you act while feeling bad, you spend your inner resources (energy, intelligence, personal “CPU cycles” etc.) on managing or suppressing the thoughts and emotions associated with the bad feeling. You have less resources available to act.
  2. Your action will perpetuate the cause of your bad feeling – Self. Being underfunded, your action will likely not produce the desired outcomes. You may or may not complete your immediate goal. But pushing steals from your energy, sleep, health, relationships, and other projects. Over time, you end up drained. Left unchecked, you will perpetuate the bad-feeling-poor-results cycle.
  3. Your action will perpetuate the cause of your bad feeling – Others. When you act while feeling bad, everyone around you knows it. Even without acknowledging it, they react to that feeling in way that will make the situation worse. Example: A project is due soon and you think the people on the project team are dropping the ball. You have a tension in your gut. You ask someone on the team friendly-sounding questions about the status of their work, “So, how’s it going? When do you think you’ll be done this part?” Your teammate will hear your words and tone but feel your tension. And she will react with remorse, anger, frustration, or defensiveness which only “underfunds” her work. To which you react and perpetuate the bad-feeling-poor-results cycle.

What to “do” instead

Acting while you feel bad is habit. It is a reaction you’ve programmed to handle the feeling. While it is hard to break a habit, it is easy to replace one. I suggest you replace any habit of “act while feeling bad” with this one: “Feel good. Then act.”

There are plenty of ways to feel good no matter what’s happening now. Here’s a simple one you can use any time. First, just notice yourself feeling bad. Descrbe the physical sensation you notice (“tension in my gut,” for instance). Next, ask yourself, “What do I want? What thought would feel even a tiny bit better than this?” Then, being willing to be surprised by your answer, wait for your answer.

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