I have a handful of topics/posts I like to refresh and revisit once a year or so because they are so timeless and important. It benefits new readers for obvious reasons, and never fails to be an edifying reminder to those who may have read about it in the past.
The topic I’m writing about today is especially appropriate for the New Year since many people have made commitments to improve things in their life. This lesson will help in pretty much any endeavor.
Feelings Follow Choice… Willful Choices Produce Desire and Feelings
If there is a favorite thing I like to teach on other than the Bible, it would be the idea “feelings follow choice”.
We live in a culture where feelings reign supreme with entire industries and markets based on solely on appealing to feelings. I don’t just mean consumer goods… I’m talking about self improvement, marriage and lifestyle choices. We buy things based on feelings, our relationships are dictated by feelings, what we do in life and how we live is based on feelings. Our feelings are elevated to be the tipping point, highest priority of everything our life. My rights, my happiness, my dreams, what I deserve, etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc.
We have an entire army of “mental health” experts who teach a person the most important aspect of their emotional and relationship health is how they feel about things. “How does that make you feel?” “Do you feel like that’s the best choice for you?” “Do you feel happy?” “Do you feel like that’s what you want out of life?” “Do you feel like you deserve that?”
It is this obsession with “feeling” which has led to a pandemic loss of personal responsibility, people not keeping their word and generations mulling around in confusion unaware of what is important in life. I have often said, and will continue to say, one of the primary reasons for the lack of stability, personal sacrifice and integrity in our culture is the destructive elevation of feelings, making them our guide, our criteria for decision, and ultimately our absolute individual truth (which is of course, no absolute truth at all).
Let me give you an analogy I’ve repeated often, and then I’ll share with you recent example of how this helped someone.
Feelings Follow Choice Just like the Caboose Follows the Engine
Picture your life as a long train. The engine is your power to make choices, your personal will. The engine is not pushed around by the wind or hills or people standing in the way. It goes where it is headed because a choice has been made on purpose regardless of the circumstances it passes through (all analogies always break down if taken too far, so just leave it there…).
The caboose represents your feelings. Feelings in and of themselves come and go based on circumstances and environment. Feelings are led around by what happens to us, our physical condition, our emotional state and the randomness of life. Our feelings are fickle and like the well-known phrase in the Bible are “tossed to and fro on the waves” of life.
By comparison, choices can be made based on knowledge, absolute truth and the force of our will regardless of circumstances or emotions. Our choices can be determined by unmovable principles, responsibility, duty and timeless truth regardless of how we happen to feel at the moment.
At this point in our discussion, even a mildly discerning person should recognize which of the two (choice or feeling) are more reliable and should have the highest priority when it comes to our decision-making. Isn’t it obvious? Should our feelings, which are prone to change on the spur of the moment in the storm of circumstances, dictate the important decisions of our life? Or should we base our choices on unchanging truths, objective knowledge, deep convictions and commitments we have made?
Burn this picture into your mind: your life is a train rolling down the tracks of life. The engine is not drifting along aimlessly. The engine is your source of power controlling the speed and direction of your life. The caboose is your feelings and they will always follow the engine and its choices. Even when the engine has made a decision to turn left or right or switch tracks, it may be a while before your feelings catch up and follow the same path. This is an important point to remember and the reason why I use the phrase “feelings FOLLOW choice.” It is not always immediate but it is always a sure thing. Feelings follow choice.
Choices Came First Back When…
Here’s a practical example. Everyone understands what happens when you meet someone and decide you’d like to pursue a romantic relationship. At the point of meeting them, you don’t have deep feelings of love, commitment and sacrifice. You start out with the initial twinges of attraction and interest. So what do you do next?
You make the CHOICE to begin doing things that will cultivate the feelings of attraction, romance and eventually love both in you and the other person. You carve out time for them. You do nice things for them. You buy gifts for them. You go out of your way to compliment them and say things to them to make them feel good. You think about them.
You make all these choices to do everything possible to not only cultivate your own feelings (which started out as just potential surface indications of interest) but you do everything you can think of to nourish and nurture the other person’s feelings for you. You may spend weeks or months, sometimes years, making choice after choice after choice to bring about the feelings that will cause the relationship to go further and become more serious.
…But Now You’ve Got It Backwards and Feelings Come First.
Fast forward a few years into marriage. Now everything is backwards. You don’t feel like doing anything nice for your spouse and you never do. You don’t feel like spending time with them so you don’t. You don’t feel romantic so you don’t do anything to create romance. You don’t feel like complimenting them so you don’t. You don’t feel like sacrificing anything for them and you aren’t going to.
It’s all turned around exactly opposite now. You will not CHOOSE to do anything you do not feel like doing. Our culture has brainwashed you into believing if you do something without feelings motivating it, then you are being insincere or hypocritical. You’ve been brainwashed by our “self” focused society (self-esteem, self love, self happiness, self forgiveness, etc.) into believing your happiness and feelings must come first before you can do anything positive about others feelings, especially your spouse.
You don’t feel like you are in love anymore so you are not going to CHOOSE to do anything a person in love would do. You don’t feel like you are in love so you aren’t going to act like you are in love.
We Choose to Do Other Things We Don’t Feel like
While many people lack the self-discipline to do anything they don’t feel like doing most of us can understand the following:
- We choose to work out or train even if we don’t feel like it.
- We choose to eat less or eat differently even if we feel like eating something unhealthy.
- We choose to get up and go to work even though we may not like our jobs or feel like working.
There are many things we choose to do each day regardless of how we feel about it. On the flip side, if you are a person who never does anything unless you feel like it then most likely you are a walking definition of being undisciplined and your life is a series of reactions instead of purpose.
Feelings follow choice. It doesn’t matter whether it’s marriage, work, health, serving others or spiritual growth, we have to face all of these situations repeatedly and routinely at times when our feelings do not match what we know we should choose to do. My point?
If you can CHOOSE to do one single thing for your life
(name it: excercise, diet, work, etc) even when
you don’t FEEL like it, then you can CHOOSE
to do ANYTHING in your life, even if you don’t feel like it
(spiritual growth, restoring your marriage, changing your attitude).
In What Areas Is Your Caboose Leading?
Now that you understand what I’m saying – “feelings follow choice” – consider what areas of your life are being lead by your caboose (but shouldn’t be). In what important matters have you been allowing your feelings to dictate your choices?
- Health: do your feelings dictate a poor diet, no exercise and hours in front of the computer or TV instead of healthy choices?
- Relationships: do your feelings dictate your moods, whether you are kind and loving, how much you sacrifice for others, and especially how you treat your spouse and family?
- Work: do your feelings cause you to gripe, complain, and do as little as possible?
- Spiritually: do your feelings allow you to keep putting off hard work, discipline and change needed to begin maturing spiritually?
Feelings follow choice. You know this in your mind to be true but maybe you’ve never put it to the test (except when you “feel” like it, ironically). Perhaps this is the key, the truth, the principle you’ve been waiting to hear… the missing piece of your life puzzle needed to make the real changes you know you need to make.
What are your questions for me?