Alternatives to counterproductive emotions and behavior

May 9, 2011 by Joshua
in Blog, Tips

Who likes feeling bad, burdened with emotions we not only don’t like, but that, if we act on them, make our lives worse?

Yet sometimes countering them with their opposites makes things worse still. For example, trying to calm down when you’re angry, especially if someone else tells you to do it, often makes one angrier.

Many emotions have complements that are more effective than opposites in dispelling them. I just wrote a series on taking responsibility as an alternative to guilt and blame. Curiosity dispels anger and brings about calmness more effectively than trying to be calm directly.

Here are a series of complements to emotions and behavior that I find effective.

  • Responsibility > guilt and blame
  • Curiosity > anger
  • Usefulness > accuracy (in beliefs and mental models, absent overriding evidence)
  • Finding solutions > finding problems
  • Do something small > overwhelmed
  • Exercise > fatigue
  • Exercise > hunger

That is, if you’re trying to avoid eating, especially junk food, exercising is more effective than trying not to eat. Likewise, if you are tired a lot, exercising more will probably bring back more energy. If you are evaluating what beliefs to hold, their usefulness in improving your life, absent compelling evidence, is more valuable than their accuracy. If you feel overwhelmed with tons of work to do, doing one small thing on the list is often the most effective action to start finishing it all.

Some of the complements aren’t obviously connected. They may take some thought to see how they work.

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