Acting on a feeling

Do you believe your feelings? When you feel terrible before an interview, is it really a sign that you are unprepared?

Today I want to talk about using what you feel as indicator for the kind of action you should take. In general, people tend to associate a feeling of happiness and joy with the kinds of things that they are ready, willing, and capable of doing. I'm really happy and excited about having ice cream, so I am prepared to have ice cream and I should do it because I feel good about. If I'm excited to watch a movie, that's a good indicator that I should do it. If I feel confident about an exam that means I can go in and do well at it.

In general, the opposite is also true. Before an interview you might be scared and feel like your stomach is about to fall out of your body. You could be forgiven for thinking this means you are unprepared and probably shouldn't go through with the interview.

The question is, should you believe your feelings? I think the answer is yes, but be aware that you might be reading your feelings wrong.

Being terrified of an interview might mean that you really want this job and that the interview is important. Take that as a sign that you should prepare appropriately.

Is how afraid you feel a good metric for how capable you are of passing an exam? Absolutely not! Otherwise they would just ask you how you feel, make a note, and send you on your way. Instead of reading fear or anxiety as a sign of unpreparedness, read it as a sign that This is important. I should spend serious time on this,

I used to have two feelings very frequently before I started applying GTD. If you've read the article describing why I started on the GTD path, you'll know that I was stuck in a spiral of anxiety which led to procrastination and then shame when things blew up in my face. This is terrible cycle, and one that I suspect is not uncommon.

Because I kept this cycle going for so long I've gotten really good at recognizing how that cycle feels. That feeling of mild procrastination and anxiety. The little voice inside that says not now, do it later. There's a wonderful talk by waitbutwhy writer, Tim Urban, taking a look inside the mind of the procrastinator. The talk is lovely and humorous, and resonated like an Eiffel Tower-sized tuning-fork with what I was going through. What he never covered was the anxiety that can drive, as he calls it, the monkey that makes you avoid work, and the shame that results when you fail to accomplish things.

Let me give you another example. I've recently gone back on my gym diet, and one thing I'm struggling with now is the lack of sugar in the diet. I've been on this diet before so I recognize a particular craving feeling as my body wanting sugar. I'm not gonna lie, the idea of inhaling a slice of red-velvet cake sounds really good right now. Problem is I know that the cake won't make me happy, no matter how much my body is telling me that it will. I'll eat the cake feel nice for a little while and then crash hard and feel terrible.

Edit: After I wrote this article I found an interesting talk by Psychiatrist Judson Brewer on how to deal with bad habits which resonated a lot with the topic. He suggests that when you're craving a cigarette or cake, the act of being mindful of how the bad habit feels can go a long way toward helping you make a change. See the full talk below:

What to do?

So what can we do? Instead of trying to suppress or ignore those feelings I've been trying to understand where the feeling comes from, what is the correct course of action, and then immediately act on it. I associate the feeling with the correct and healthy action.

I recognize procrastination and immediately take it as a sign that whatever it is I'm procrastinating about needs to be done right now. I've taken that call to procrastination as a call to action on whatever it is I'm avoiding. As the guys at Asian Efficiency put it, I eat the frog. That voice telling me to go read the entire wikipedia page for the country of Lesoto, actually means that I should go pay for the water bill. If you've ever avoided opening your mail client for fear of what might be waiting in your inbox you know precisely what that voice sounds like. Open the inbox and deal with what's in there. The other way lies madness.

Learn to recognize the signal, determine the correct course of action, and act on that signal again and again.

If you are procrastinating on going out to the park like you planned, immediately put your shoes on and walk out of the house. Don't even discuss it, just go. If you feel like having cake, grab a glass of water and gulp it down.

Do you have any such signals that come up for you again and again? Have a think about what they are really telling you. Let me know if try this technique out.