Feelings Are Weather
Donald Miller, the author of Blue Like Jazz (2003), A Million Miles in a Thousand Years (2009), and many other books, recently tweeted –
I think the love we build is much more reliable than the love we feel. Feelings are weather.
The tweet immediately got me to thinking, especially that concise little sentence: “Feelings are weather.” To what extent, I wondered, is the tweet choice theory friendly or choice theory accurate. My mind tends to go there when I read a tweet or a blog or a story or an article or even when I watch a movie. Feelings are weather. Hmm . . .
Let’s see how far we can take the weather metaphor.
+ Weather can be mild or it can be extremely powerful. Choice theorists would agree that feelings are sometimes mild and sometimes overwhelmingly – at least it feels overwhelming – powerful.
+ Weather can quickly change, while at other times we can anticipate changes days in advance. Our feelings can be the same way.
+ Weather can’t be controlled, although I can choose my response to it. I can’t stop the rain, but I can grab an umbrella. I can’t cool the sun, but I can wear a hat. Choice theory teaches us that we cannot directly control our feelings, but that we can control our thinking and our acting. Because the four parts of our behavior – thinking, acting, feeling, and body physiology – always come into alignment, our feelings and our physiology will ultimately come into alignment with the part of our behavior we can control, that being our thinking and our acting.
(As I write this on Sabbath morning, October 3, 2015, at 9:00 am, the weather in Angwin is warm and calm, a beautiful morning actually, yet reports are indicating a fire advisory this evening into tomorrow morning with high winds and gusts up to 50 mph. As you can tell, I am interested in the weather.)
+ We are aware of and monitor the weather constantly. If you are having an outdoor wedding and it’s taking place next week you will be especially interested in weather forecasts. Similarly, we monitor our feelings constantly.
There is no question that feelings, our emotions, play a big role in our moment-to-moment, day-to-day lives. The real question has to do with the level of importance we assign to our feelings and the extent to which we let them hold sway over our picture of our reality. Given the number of people caught up in self-medicating behaviors, including the pursuit of drugs to artificially modify emotions, it appears that a lot of us are believing whatever our feelings are telling us. Some of us, it appears, place so much importance on our feelings that we let them have far too much influence on our sense of wellbeing.
One of Glasser’s most important contributions, and one of his unique contributions, is the concept of total behavior. As much as any of his ideas, the concept of total behavior describes the role of feelings in our lives and helps us understand the ways in which we can influence them or on the other hand be a victim of them.
Total behavior proposes the following key ideas –
+ All we (human beings) do is behave.
+ All behavior is purposeful.
+ All (or each) behavior is made of four parts – Thinking, Acting, Feeling, and Physiology.
+ We have direct control over our thinking and our acting.
+ We have indirect control over our feelings and our physiology.
Every behavior is made up of these four parts, and more importantly, the four parts, based on our focus, will come into alignment with each other. We all experience this alignment process throughout every day –
+ I THINK a bike ride will be good for me; I ACT by getting on the bike and heading down the hill; I begin to FEEL freer and empowered; and my PHYSIOLOGY (heart rate, perspiration, breathing, etc.) matches the demands placed on my body in the process.
+ I FEEL tense and anxious; my PHYSIOLOGY includes a clenched stomach and a tight chest (two of a number of body responses); my THINKING focuses on reasons to be afraid or angry; and I ACT by going home, grabbing high fat/high sugar foods, and distracting myself in front of the TV.
+ I FEEL frustrated and resentful; I acknowledge the feeling, but THINK it is time for me to talk with the person with whom I am frustrated; I ACT by using the caring habits of Accepting and Negotiating Differences; and my PHYSIOLOGY, momentarily heading toward high blood pressure and muscular tightness, remains at reasonable levels.
Keep in mind that we don’t have direct control over our feelings (or the weather). We can intensify our feelings by (through our thinking) affirming them and even nurturing them, but why not head in a better direction. Since we can directly control our thinking and our actions, why not focus on the best versions of ourselves we can be.
I think Donald Miller was right – feelings are weather.
For insights into how to navigate life, including the continual debate over gun control, check out Glasser’s biography.
That sounds like a great way to explain it to my students and gives me a tag line to use when they are operating from the feeling zone – “feelings are weather”. I like it. My other phrase is “sounds like you need to get up on those front wheels” (actions and thoughts) based on Doug Dragster.
I am interested to know how your students process the phrase “feelings are weather.” Have you shared it with them yet?
Feelings are confusing – you cannot rely on them, and weather can always be better – strange how I tend to focus and put too much weight upon things that I cannot directly control, to “have a nice” day. I like the comparison with feelings and weather and Choice Theory, Jim. And I agree – I think both weather and feelings would be more tolerable if I did not focus too much on what I cannot directly choose. Thanks for reminding me. I’ll take the picture with me to my students:)
How did you students respond to the comparison of feelings to weather? Was the phrase somehow helpful to them?
Thanks for sharing this. I love the way the quote “feelings are weather” says so much while saying so little.
I have an extension for the car metaphor: If we lose traction in a rear-wheel drive car, we’re going to flip unless we steer in the direction that gets the front wheels out in front of the rear wheels. Maybe an analogy could be a husband who feels himself spinning out of control with jealousy, and responds by spying on his wife, reading her emails, etc. I think of this as “letting feelings run the show.” The problem with losing traction in a rear-wheel drive vehicle, though: what if the rear wheels are sliding out from under you, AND they’re sliding in the direction of a cliff?
In contrast, the best thing to do when we lose control of a front-wheel drive vehicle is to steer in the direction we want to go. Feelings inform the decision of where we want to go — and in some cases, they may even be the only source of information we need — but we aren’t forced to do their bidding. Especially when doing so will lead us over a cliff.
Thank you for the extension re: the car metaphor. Good analogy as well.
I am thinking more about your phrase, Feelings inform the decision of where we want to go. Could you say more about that?
Hi Jim. I’ve been thinking about this all week. My comment is long and I’m not altogether sure this is an appropriate use of this comment space since I’m expanding the discussion, but in hopes that it is:
I’d say feelings are like weather in an important sense, but unlike weather in another, also important sense: Nothing we do has any bearing on the weather, but our choices have everything to do with how we feel. Imagine an observant person who knows nothing about choice theory or any other good framework for navigating life and relationships. Relying on only trial and error and careful observation of how various choices make them feel, such a person could eventually find their way to better and better decisions.
Yet I like the imagery of Feelings Are Weather. It captures some quality of feelings in a way that’s hard to beat. Piggybacking on the concept in a roundabout way, I’m currently tossing around this one in my head:
A person is like a country, and the part of the person that makes decisions is like the president. The endless, ever-changing flow of reports coming in to a president bear some similarities to the endless, ever-changing flow of weather reports on TV: Sometimes chaotic, sometimes dismal, sometimes bright and sunny, never know what tomorrow will be like. Every morning the president wakes up to a long line of advisors, staff, advocacy groups, and other constituents clamoring for attention. A staffer tells him he has a meeting in 10 minutes, an advisor draws his attention to an economic report released last night that he feels is important, a member of a non-profit desperately pleads with him to reconsider a current policy. The president absolutely depends on these constituents for feedback as to what is and isn’t working; he’s blind without them. People are dependent on feelings for an analogous form of feedback.
I’m already getting some good mileage out of this leader/constituents analogy in terms of what we’re aiming for with Choice Theory: A great leader isn’t a lackey to any of his constituents. He maintains his composure and acts sensibly even if constituents come to him in a desperate panic, or if they are pressuring him. At the same time, he administers his organization in a way that invites feedback: Constituents feel free to bring information to his attention that they feel is important, they know he’ll listen. Particularly, constituents feel he views them not as a nuisance, nor does he approach them with an impersonal calculus of problem-solving. Instead, they feel he considers them prized friends and teammates, and he gets that he simply could not do his job without them.
I apologize for not getting back to you before this. Somehow, I put this aside thinking I would get right back to it, but then life happened and I focused on something else.
I appreciate what you have said, though, very much. Your analogy is helpful.
You did get me thinking with one of your points, the one where you wrote that “Relying on only trial and error and careful observation of how various choices make them feel, such a person could eventually find their way to better and better decisions.” I am not so sure about this, one of the reasons being that it is often need-satisfying in some way to be miserable or to choose unhappiness. Choice theory seems to help us identify an unhealthy pattern like this, label the deadly habit for what it is, and then learn to choose a better behavior that is more productive and that strengthens relationships. Without choice theory (or something like it) I think it would be easy for people to get stuck in an ineffective behavior loop. Not sure, but thanks for getting me thinking.
Agreed, and very well-put.