Emotions follow actions
There’s a famous phrase attributed to Blaise Pascal:
If you don’t live the way you think, you’ll think the way you live.
The other day I realised that this principle is not so large as it looms over us in Pascal’s quote. It’s based on a very simple psychological mechanism that is also used in cognitive-behavioural therapy: emotions follow action. What you do determines how you think and feel, because emotions are behaviour too.
I discovered this about ten years ago when I had learned to be single happily. So happy in fact that when one of my friends inquired whether I would give up this life for a woman I replied: “She would have to be very, very nice indeed!”
Of course I met women and I did not ignore them. One day I realised I could possibly fall in love with a woman I had met. It was a remote possibility I thought, but maybe it was good if I tried to make friends with her. If my affection ever grew, then there would be a useful base to build something more on if that ever turned out to be possible. I would have a head start and if love wasn’t an option, I’d still have a good friend. It was a win-win situation I reckoned.
So I started doing the things a man does when he wants to accost a woman. I did them carefully and controlled, because friendship was what I was after, primarily. Within days I was madly in love with her. Within weeks she’d had enough of me and in the end I had to organise a clean break to tidy up the mess I’d made. I overestimated myself, big time.
You may think you’re in control, but you’re not. We are not that strong, nobody is. What you do determines how you will eventually feel. Emotions are a choice, they do not happen to you, they’re behaviour.