My client is going through an ugly divorce.
It’s messy. It’s hard.
It’s emotionally difficult for him, the hardest thing he has ever had to do.
He is trying to move forward but he keeps finding himself dragged back into negative thoughts and feelings.
Fear. Worry. Guilt. Anger. Sadness. Frustration.
Before he came to see me, with the help of a therapist he’d practiced mastering these emotions for so long that they had become habitual to him, and he needed a way out.
Every time he falls into these feelings he gets down, and from there he is failing to take constructive action to put the divorce behind him and get on with his life.
As you know, when us humans get stuck in our own bad feelings it can be hard to see a way out.
If you see a friend in a bad way you can easily guide them to a better place, but when you yourself are stuck it can be hard to remember we always have other choices.
This is a four step process I use for going from negative “stuck” emotional states to taking action:
1. Interrupt the pattern: When you are stuck in negative thoughts and feelings, stop yourself. Do anything you can to stop from indulging in the “problem.” Coach yourself as you would someone else, and get yourself to see you were in the problem.
2. Change your emotional state: Don’t try to just change your thinking, this is hard even for experts (e.g. me!). Instead, change your body, do whatever you can to get back to feeling good, or at least feeling neutral. 10 push ups. Yoga. Long run. Whatever. Stop thinking and do something different until you are no longer feeling bad.
3. Choose new thinking: Now you are ready to see things differently. For instance, my client has “a new future ahead of him,” or “a second chance at life,” or whatever story or metaphor or vision gets him thinking good thoughts and feeling good.
4. Take action: Look, in the end all this head stuff is just about getting you to stop thinking about the problem and taking constructive action, which puts the problem behind you. Forget about the thinking, become absorbed in taking action.
I’ve relied on a variation of this formula for everything from writing to dealing with painful emotions to taking massive leaps in my career and life.
When I was hating my job and I was often frustrated, angry, and confused I first needed to change how I felt so I could constructively focus on creating the life I wanted.
From there, I needed to every day take the actions that kept me moving forward.
As Churchill said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”