Today I want to share with you one of the most powerful healing tools I used early on,
and still occasionally use, to manage painful emotions such as anxiety, sadness, hopelessness, or emotional “flatness”. Deep thinkers are often sensitive people, which is why this post is appropriate for a critical thinking blog.
Make a List
Start by writing a list of some things that would normally make you feel good. They don’t have to make you feel good now. But simply list some things that, if you were feeling alright or better, you might enjoy doing.
Don’t make the list too hard. I suggest having at least one item from each of the following categories of human needs. Add some that are easier to do than others.
Social: Call a family member and ask how their day is. Visit a friend for an hour over coffee. Visit a forum online. Compliment someone through social media.
Physical: Exercise a few minutes. Try a yoga class. Take a walk listening to uplifting music. Eat a meal or treat that you want to enjoy and don’t feel guilty. Take a warm shower. Put on some fuzzy socks and your comfiest clothes.
Mental: Read a chapter in a novel. Write for 20 minutes about what’s going on inside. Listen to a TED Talk. Find a few quotes that resonate and put one where you can see it.
You don’t need to believe that they will make you feel good. The important thing is that in the past, at some point, you were able to enjoy them. I recommend coming up with six things – that seems to be just enough tasks without being overwhelming.
How to use your List
Once you have your list, write it out on paper and start checking them off as you do them, one by one. There’s no guarantee, but you’ll likely feel something change before you get to your final item. If you don’t, then perhaps try amending the list or going through it one more time.
How NOT to use the List
Don’t force yourself to feel good if you don’t. It’s possible that you get through your list and nothing has changed – you still feel terrible. That’s ok, too. At least you fired a few neurons! If it doesn’t work for you, you can try something else.
Don’t judge yourself harshly for not feeling better. If you get through the list and still want to cry, lash out, do mean things to yourself, sulk, or otherwise indulge in your negative emotions, that’s ok. It’s a very human thing to want to feel negative emotions. But at least you’ll know that it’s a conscious decision to do so. This re-affirms your free will and self-control and is intrinsically valuable.
Why is the list such a powerful tool?
The list works well because you’ll:
a) change your behavior without judging yourself – you’re simply trying something. Once you’re done, feel free to do the list over, find new things that make you feel even better, or revert to the earlier moodiness.
b) rebuild your accountability to yourself – you made a contract with yourself and “completed the mission”. The check marks prove it.
c) affirm your control over your situation – you’re still able to try stuff and choose to feel good. Or, maybe you find out that you want to feel bad – if so, accept that right now, that’s your choice.
d) provide evidence that you can feel differently – perhaps one item makes you feel just a tiny bit better (or a whole lot better). There’s hope that you won’t always feel as bad as you are feeling now. You can feel a little better and one day you it might even be greater!
By doing the list, you’ll practice believing that things can change, even when you feel very deeply that things are hopeless and you are stuck forever.