Emotional Regulation 11: Opposite Action

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This skill is a tricky one and at the surface can feel like an impossibility but hear me out. You begin with identifying the emotion you want to change, and then practice actions that express the opposite emotion. It sounds counter-intuitive, especially when our emotions get the better of us, but remember when we talked about motivation and action? Reminder: Action precedes motivation. You need to get the ball rolling first and the rest follows after.

Here are the steps to practice the skill: Opposite Action

  1. Identify and name the emotion you want to change.
  2. Check the facts – is the emotion justified by the facts? What is the emotion’s intensity? What is its duration?
  3. Identify and describe you action urges
  4. Ask your wise mind: is the emotional expression effective in this situation? If not, then the action is not effective.
  5. Identify the opposite actions to your action urges
  6. Act opposite ALL THE WAY No half-assed attempts!
  7. Repeat acting opposite to your action urges until the emotion changes.
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Here’s an example of effective opposite action:

Say you’ve had a rough day, you’re down, depressed, melancholic, feeling heavy, etc., and all you want to do is lie in bed and scroll facebook for hours.

Step 1 – the name of the emotion is sadness

Step 2 – the facts are, you feel so down you can’t find the motivation for do anything but lie around and indulge in social media.

Step 3 – The action urge here is to do nothing. It’s avoident behaviour and scrolling on social media can be diverting, but it can also make things worse.

Step 4 – Wise mind says, yeah, this might help you feel better in the short term. Those little bursts of dopamine you get from likes and comments on your feed can get your through a bit of sadness but it’s not going to be a lasting or effective solution for what you actually want to achieve.

Step 5 – The opposite of this action urge is physical action. It’s getting off social media and indulging in real life social interactions instead. Phone a friend, go for a walk, even texting to start is an option. Getting out of your house and simply saying hello to the strangers you pass. Or, if the social opposite is not an option, then physical action may be what’s needed. Light housework to blaring music, baking, crafting, vacuuming, etc. As long as your body isn’t static.

Step 6 – Don’t hesitate on the opposite action. Go all the way. Find a way to hold yourself accountable for your opposite action, either by a to-do list or with a friend. Set small goals for yourself to reach by the end of the day.

Step 7 – Keep practicing your opposite action until your mood improves. Your motivation will kick in and you will feel better. Don’t give up, this is what your fight looks like. This is what recovery looks like. Even if you’re faking it, your body will switch gears and when the motions become automatic your mood will follow suit.

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Keep on it Sisyphus, you’re almost there!

I know on paper it looks like an exercise in futility and the hardest part is usually somewhere around steps 5 and 6. Trust me, I am the most cynical person I know and I practice this. It’s hard, it’s bloody hard but its effective.

Remember, you’re not alone in this struggle. We are an army facing the odds in our very brains and body, but we’re not alone. Reach out to friends, connect with your community, get positive supports and you will get through this. You’re not alone.

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