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Can you do Great Things, Even When you Don't Feel Great?

By Tomas Tapper

Have you ever seen a toddler throw a tantrum? I have. Just last night in fact. And again this morning. Our home is entering “the terrific twos” (a phrase my wife uses).In these last two tantrums, I noticed something pretty awesome.

Imagine an exhausted almost-2-year-old, clearly needing to go to sleep, but not wanting to miss out on more play time. As the emotions get stronger and the tiredness (and stubbornness) overtakes, the stomping feet, the rubbing eyes, it all gets louder, and then the tears start. I’ve worked extensively with parents and children, and I’ll readily admit it’s quite a bit harder when it’s happening in your own home!

Here’s where ACT comes in. A bit of grounding work for myself, and then a gentle touch of compassion and an explanation “You need to get your pjs on so you can give yourself some rest” brings an interesting realisation. No, the crying doesn’t stop, the screaming doesn’t subside – but the arms go in the sleeves and the feet miraculously walk towards the bed. It’s an amazing thing to witness. Despite everything likely going on in my toddler’s mind, the anger, the sadness, the raw emotions, there’s still the ability to physically do what’s needed to complete the bedtime routine. Even at just 2 years old we can already practice taking action towards what we want, even though our emotions are seemingly getting the better of us.

Somewhere along the way in our “growing up”, we start to see our emotions as things we shouldn’t express as much, and in turn, often things we should control. We have “adult tantrums”, usually within ourselves and sometimes towards others. We express our anger, frustration, and disappointment through self-criticism, arguments with loved ones, disengaging from work, etc. The result:

We start to tell ourselves, and even believe, we need to feel better to do better. 

Then we take it a step further, and we stop doing the things that help us get what we want from life like self-care, engaging with others and performing our best. I see it everyday, and I’m guilty of it sometimes myself, after all, we are only human. Luckily, our emotions don’t actually decide our actions, even if we sometimes let them. On the contrary – if emotions always dictated our actions, imagine the road rage we would see!

So what makes us sometimes take action, and sometimes be dictated by our emotional state of mind and body? Well, just like a 2-year-old’s temper tantrum, it may be circumstances we don’t like, or things happening that feel too hard to cope with. Either way, when we do work in ACT, we build stronger skills and increase our psychological flexibility so we don’t get caught up in our own inner tantrums. Working on getting untangled from the mess of emotions, and regaining control of our actions so we can be free to engage with a life that we want to live. So even though we might feel like throwing our arms in the air and crying because life is pretty cruel to us sometimes, we can put one foot in front of the other and walk towards something that will help make things better.

You don’t need to feel good to run good. You don’t need to feel great to do great parenting. And guess what, you don’t need to feel happy to engage in something that can bring happiness or meaning to your day.

You can still do great things, even when you don’t feel great.

My extensive work with parents is actually not too far off from my work with elite athletes. It comes down to doing what matters most and performing at your best. The tough part is – You need to perform on a given day, whether you want to or not. 

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