Feelings vs. Reactions

Learning to act with wisdom no matter how we feel.

One of the first steps toward getting “Bipolar In Order” is to learn the difference between what we feel or experience and how we react. In our first workshop and in our support group meetings we have an exercise that helps. I want to share it with you here and see how it works without as much guidance or background.

One of the main stumbling blocks to getting Bipolar In Order is the belief that we have no choice in how we react. When presented with the fact that we do, I always hear “what about the times when it is too intense?” or “what about when I go to bed happy and wake up depressed?” “Surely we have no control then?” While it is currently true for most people, with training and practice we can learn to have the choice in an ever increasing range. Eventually we can get to the point where nothing is too intense.

This simple practice will not lead to Bipolar In Order automatically. It is only one tool in a toolbox full of them. I will be sharing other tools one at a time as this blog grows. Practiced regularly, you should see results in a month or so. It will prove the effectiveness of taking steps to improve your condition.

Step One: Pick a state that you want to use — mania, depression, hallucinations, etc. Then choose a level of intensity. You may want to start out with low levels first as the higher levels of intensity are sometimes too difficult at first to sort out. It is better to get used to the process with easy ones.

Step Two: Write down what the state is (low level depression for example) and what it feels like to be in that state. Be careful NOT to write down how you react to the state, only what it feels like. Try to focus on the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual experiences and learn to describe them clearly.

Step Three: Write down how you usually react to that state. If you previously acted differently than you do now, write down how you acted then.

Step Four: Write down other possible ways to react to the state. You might have already changed how you react, so write down your new way here.

Step Five: Brainstorm other options or how someone who has Bipolar In Order might react to the same state and write them down. Write down what a saint would do, what would Jesus do, or what someone you revere would do.

Step Six: Answer the toughest question of all — Why don’t you react that way?

As you get good at the practice, do it for a more intense level. This exercise helps us to see that we have a choice of how to react to everything.

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Tom Wootton founded Bipolar Advantage with the mission to help people with mental conditions shift their thinking and behavior so that they can lead extraordinary lives. His most recent work focuses on moving beyond recovery in bipolar disorder to what he calls Bipolar In Order.