Reality Check: The Dashboards of our Lives

For some of us, a “dashboard” refers to a collection of lights and indicators in a vehicle. For others, a dashboard brings to mind a webpage that shows system status and controls. In either case, a dashboard provides information about the health of a system. It’s a window into what’s going on.
In “Understanding Reality Therapy: A Metaphorical Approach” Dr. Bob Wubbolding draws a connection between human feelings and the indicators on a dashboard. If you struggle with feelings that seem to take over your life, then you may find this perspective useful.
A lit warning light on a dashboard provides information, for example, the oil level is low. The light itself is not the problem. It’s what the light indicates that’s the problem (or potential problem.)
It’s easy enough to get rid of the light. You can choose to ignore it. If you find that hard to do because the light is staring you in the face, slap a piece of black tape over it. There, problem solved!
Except, of course, the problem isn’t solved. The problem was never the light; the problem is the underlying condition. The light is just the messenger.
If you’ve been reading these columns for awhile, you know that Reality Therapy views behaviour as having different components: actions, thoughts, feelings and our bodily responses (physiology.)
Feelings are difficult to control directly. In past columns, I’ve suggested that we can sometimes change our feelings by choosing different actions.
Why would we want to change our feelings? Maybe they are overwhelming. For example, anxiety, sadness, resentment, anger can be so intense that they take the joy right out of living. Feelings might influence us to believe that we can’t take constructive action. Feelings can be difficult.
Feelings can also be wonderful. It’s through feelings that we experience love, joy, contentment, pride and more.
According to Dr. Glasser’s Choice Theory, when we perceive that what we want is not what we have, we experience frustration. That frustration makes itself known in various ways, perhaps a nervous stomach, headache, feelings of worry or anger, and so on.
The practical takeaway from Wubbolding’s use of dashboard lights as a metaphor for feelings is that our feelings are indicators, not the causes of our behaviours.
Those “feeling lights” could be indicating that something is not working in your system. A need is not being satisfied; or your perception of what you want compared to what you have is not working well for you.
For example, if you are not satisfying your need for connection and belonging, that unmet need may show up on your “dashboard” as a feeling of resentment: “Why should other people feel that they belong if I don’t?”
In a world where we are inundated with so much information, it might seem that yet another piece of information—coming from our dashboard of feelings—may be just what we don’t need!
But our feelings don’t need to be in charge. They don’t compel us to act. However, they may provide valuable information as we choose our actions. And acting—choosing activities that we can directly control—can help us take control of overwhelming feelings.
What are your indicators telling you? Slow down? Speed up? Reach out? Pull back? Put up guardrails?

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