As a nation or as individuals, we sometimes experience feelings of despair. Despair debilitates us and of course doesn’t solve anything. However, once the feeling get a grip on us, no matter what others say or how much we would try telling ourselves differently, it is real and having an impact on us. There are two extreme types of responses to such feelings: On the one hand we can completely succumb to the feeling in the sense that we allow the feeling to determine our view of and attitude towards life, and on the other, influenced by our culture’s insistence on the show of success, strength and rational control, we can concentrate on trying to suppress or deny the feeling. None of these are helpful in our quest for meaning and hope for happiness.

Getting perspective on our feelings

In life, since we have the gift of choice and will, it will always be in our best interest to distinguish between what we can control and what not. Can we prevent thoughts and their emotional impact from entering our minds? Can we, say by following a rational thought process of steps one to five, get rid of the negative feeling in an instant and dismiss it as a mere illusion? Or are feelings as human and real as thoughts? We know the answer is positive: we are both thoughts and feelings. They are equally real and part of life. Of course we are responsible for our responses and of course we can be proactive in what we ‘feed’ our minds, what we turn to and what we turn away from, but if a spontaneous thought, for instance, triggers fear in us, it happens beyond our control. Such involuntary thoughts can even be in contradiction to our beliefs and values. We don’t choose these type of thoughts and the feelings they evoke. What we can control and focus on are the actions we take notwithstanding the feelings we have.

To be action-oriented does not imply that we should ignore or try and bypass our feelings. To the contrary, wise and effective actions are linked to the acceptance, not denial, of our feelings. And we don’t have to work firstly on accepting our feelings before we can act. Action can be the way we naturally come to accept the feelings and potential reason(s) for them. By taking action when we feel down and do something as simple as tidying up our room or garage, we get the sense of control instead of feeling we are drowning in negative emotions. The more we complain, the worse we make it for ourselves. It is much easier to control our body movements than to try and control our thoughts and feelings. When we face unpleasant and/or difficult tasks we typically procrastinate by telling ourselves we first need to figure out how we are going to do it. Once we get moving however, and get our bodies in the position where we can start performing the actions needed, we soon come to realise it was not such a big issue after all.

Acting on our purpose in life

I am not advocating that we should be active just for the sake of being active and thereby cure our emotional stresses. I am saying though that we should not allow for negative emotions to debilitate us. By accepting the unavoidable reality of emotional swings and focusing on what needs to be done irrespective of one’s emotional state, we have the best of the emotional world as well as the practical world. There is no merit in just thinking about doing something. The result is the same as not thinking about it. The key to our being action-oriented is to know and understand our purpose in life. In other words, what do we believe we are called to do in the big and the small things. Then, do the small things like thanking someone who made your life easier through his or her actions, or apologising to someone whose life you know you made difficult through your actions.

Reflecting on my own life, I can recall many things I did not because I felt like doing it, but because it was the only way I could have my integrity intact, living what I am preaching and believing. All of those deeds helped setting me on a much better path than what would have been the case if I only did what I liked.

Author : Dr Gerhard van Rensburg