You Don’t Have To React To Everything You Feel


I was watching a TED talk about the key to self control and he was talking about acknowledging cravings or feelings and then not acting on them and suddenly, I had an epiphany: Our society teaches us that all desires and feelings must be acted on. And this premise, this teaching, it’s the key to our unhappiness.

Not only is acting on all your cravings and impulses an unhealthy way to live, and ultimately unsatisfying, it prevents any of us from actually achieving what we want to achieve.

Have you ever been at an afternoon tea and someone says they really want cake, but they shouldn’t have it? Of course you have. And what was the reaction of everyone around you?

Oh, just have the damn cake!
You deserve it.
You want it.
One piece of cake won’t hurt.

And if they stand firm in their convictions, we lose interest. If they do it enough times, we bitch about it: Killjoy. Fun police. Too healthy. Don’t they ever want to just let it go?

I’ve noticed a lot of that when I complain I want to eat the cake/chocolate/whatever. “Just eat it!” And even a few times “You’re thin enough” and the less direct, but more loaded, “you can afford to”.

I say I’m not allowed, not able to, can’t. I’m asked why. I explain I’m on a restricted diet for medical reasons. People nod sympathetically, then they move on to something else, having lost interest in trying to convince me I should, actually, eat the damn cake.

Yet when someone says “I’m trying to be healthy” or “I’m trying to lose weight”, people don’t stop. They don’t lose interest. “It’s just one piece of cake!”

But this way of thinking may be the underlying cause of our dissatisfaction. We are too used to reacting to every feeling – preventing discomfort, responding to cravings to really appreciate how good we have it.

I’ve heard it said you have to be cold to appreciate the warmth, and although I agreed I never fully appreciated what that meant.

The Viking never feels the cold, I tell people. He corrects me “I feel it, it just doesn’t bother me”.

This is the key. The heart of mindfulness. The key to our dissatisfaction epidemic:

You don’t have to react to everything you feel.

Feel it, then move on.

Want the cake, and just don’t have it. Feel the cold, but don’t try to change it. Acknowledge what is happening, but don’t react. Feel it, then let it go.

The key to motivation is investing in your future self. Before you do something, stop and ask: Is this helping future me?

Do you get asked about your food choices? Do you respond to everything you feel? 

  • Gary

    Wise words Tamsin. Cake, yes I can feel the desire and move on. Cold though, it’s hard to ignore shivering. I wish I had the Viking’s constitution for cold. Mind you I revel in warm and humid climes when I know many others don’t. Horses for courses. It’s nice to see you blogging.

    • Tamsin Howse

      I don’t do very well in hot or cold! I’m just broken 😉

      • Gary

        Please don’t say you’re broken, you’re just not well suited to extremes ?

    • Tamsin Howse

      And thank you… It’s going in waves at the moment. Can’t promise it’ll keep up…

      • Gary

        Fingers crossed ?

  • Picardie.girl

    Hey Tamsin, could you share the link? I’m interested in watching too.

    People sometimes do comment on what I eat, and it bothers me. The old ‘ooh, that looks healthy’ in the office lunchroom often comes with a side serve of ‘well done you, you’re better than me’. It’s uncomfortable.

    I probably do respond to most things I feel, but the real issue for me is that I have trouble not saying everything I think!

    FYI, there was a study done on the difference between people saying they “can’t” eat something versus people saying they “don’t” and apparently you’re more likely to make better choices and feel empowered if you say “don’t”. ( Of course, I often say “can’t” anyway because it does tend to get people off your back quicker 😉

    • Tamsin Howse

      Sure, it’s this one:

      There is a post about TED talks coming, but that one didn’t end up making the list.

      Yes, I think the can’t/don’t study is very interesting. The Viking really likes it. I think that’s more about the effect of the word on your internal dialogue than an external influence.

      In some instances don’t works just as well (e.g. I don’t drink alcohol, I don’t eat seafood) but can’t really shuts it down when someone is being pushy.

  • NormalNess

    I have people who assume I don’t eat certain things (especially the in-office cake situation) because I’m overweight. Not true. I don’t eat them most of the time anyway. I don’t have a taste for some foods any more.