Reality Check: Body, Mind and Feelings

“You won’t gag if you hum.” This I learned from a dental professional. It’s true—you don’t even have to carry a tune! Who knew? This practical little trick reminds me of other connections between actions and physiology.
Dr. William Glasser defines “behaviour” a little differently than we usually do. He refers to “total behaviour” with four components: action, thought, feeling and physiology.
We can most directly control our actions (activities). If you’re asked, “What are you doing?” you’ll probably answer with an action: “I’m eating; I’m walking; I’m talking.” It’s often easy to change our actions—for example, stop walking and sit down.
A second component—thoughts—is not so easy to control. Perhaps you are thinking about what you are doing or maybe your mind is somewhere else. You might be thinking happy thoughts, difficult thoughts, or mundane thoughts.
Sometimes we’d like to change what we’re thinking, to take our minds off troubling thoughts, but we find it difficult to do.
The third component is feeling. For example, we might feel optimistic and energized or we might feel sad or worried. There are times when we’d prefer that our feelings were different than they are, but feelings aren’t so easy to change, either.
The final component is physiology. Our hearts are beating; we’re breathing, and many other processes are going on in our bodies. Sometimes we are more aware of our physiology than others, especially when the head aches, the stomach clenches, or the heart pounds.
Glasser suggests that these components are inseparable and that we don’t have much direct control over our physiology, feelings or thinking. However, we can indirectly exert control over all of them by choosing our actions.
In “Choice Theory,” Glasser describes the situation of a man whose wife has left him. He is depressed, or as Glasser puts it, “choosing to depress.” He “thinks” constantly about what he should have done. His unhappy “feelings” contribute to his “physiology” of exhaustion. Any activity is an effort. Round it goes, each component reinforcing this unfortunate state.
Glasser optimistically suggests that if we can choose behaviours that make us miserable, then it is also within our power to choose more helpful behaviours. It is easiest to directly control our actions rather than trying to directly control our feelings or thoughts. Thus, the effective way to change thoughts, feelings or physiological responses is through changing our activities.
To help that man with the broken marriage (or to help anyone who is miserable) instead of asking, “How are you feeling?” he suggests, “What are you planning to do today?”
As we emerge from recent events, I’m struck by people who have experienced some level of anxiety. For some, there’s lingering reluctance to mingle and socialize, or even to go out for necessities. It seems better to cocoon, theoretically safe from perceived dangers. In other words, there’s misery.
The most effective challenge to misery may not be to focus on the feelings. Instead, try focusing on actions that lead you in a productive direction.
Choosing actions to change feelings may not work as dramatically as humming does to control the gag reflex. However, if it makes even a small positive difference, maybe it’s worth a try.
So, what are you planning to do today?

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