Causality dilemmas (most famously, the question of which came first – the chicken or the egg), represent situations of potential infinite regress, in which it is not clear which of the two events, situations, or phenomena is the cause and which is the effect. And while it may seem to be a deeply philosophical or fruitless concept, we are actually faced with such scenarios quite regularly in our lives. When I first moved to Ireland, it was a struggle and long process to get everything in order – finalize visas and registration, lease an apartment, open a bank account, switch phone service providers, hire an accountant for taxes, etc. Everywhere I went, it seemed that to obtain A, you needed to have B and C, but to get B, you first needed A and D, and to get D, you needed A, B, and C. No one seemed to be able to suggest a logical or even possible starting point, so I wasted plenty of time running from institution to institution attempting to find someone who would break the chain, make an exception or otherwise let me into the cycle. It took time, but eventually, in that case at least, the problem was resolved. A more endearing example of a causality dilemma we deal with regularly is related to our feelings and behavior. Many people think that we act in a particular way because of the way that we feel, however to a large extent, we actually feel the way we do because of the way we act. The psychological concept known as the Cognitive Triangle demonstrates the bidirectional influence that thoughts, feelings, and behaviors have on one another. In essence, what we think affects how we act and feel, but what we feel affects what we think and do, and what we do affects how we think and feel. One of the founding fathers of psychology, William James, described this phenomenon more eloquently, saying that “action seems to follow feeling, but really action and feeling go together; and by regulating the action, which is under the more direct control of the will, we can indirectly regulate the feeling, which is not.” So although at times it seems counterintuitive or questionable, research tends to support the fact that we should act the way we want to feel.
Many famous studies including the Stanford prison experiment by Philip Zimbardo demonstrate the strong influence of behavior on our emotions. In the study, half the participants were assigned to a prisoner role and half were asked to play the part of a prison guard. All subjects were to act in their respective roles in a mock prison designed for the experiment and although the roles were fictitious and randomly assigned, in very little time, the “guards” and “prisoners” had internalized their position. The guards acted in an authoritative and often demeaning or abusive manner towards the prisoners and the prisoners displayed signs of depression and desperation. Although it was an entirely contrived role playing scenario, things spiraled out of control so quickly that the study was aborted after only 6 days instead of the original two weeks planned. The psychological distress and sadistic feelings experienced by participants was real and increasingly evident throughout the duration of the experiment. The subjects acted according to their roles and consequently changed the way they felt. While my goal is not to inflict nor endure psychological torture, I do find it a compelling example of how acting in a particular way can in turn induce that emotion. If I want to feel happier, I should act happier – we should act the way we want to feel.
When I was growing up, my parents worked diligently to instill a positive attitude and growth mindset into each of us. They would constantly tell us that what we believed would shape the reality of outcomes or situations around us which sounded pretty farfetched to me. I was skeptical and suspicious since it seemed a lot more like a way to get us to stop complaining or having a poor attitude than anything else. I also remember often arguing that I couldn’t change the way I felt if such and such a thing was happening. Apparently, to a large extent I was wrong. It is very hard to independently change our feelings or attitude toward something since so much of it happens outside our consciousness or sphere of control. I don’t think we can simply will ourselves to be happy or calm or excited about something. However, we can and do choose our own actions. Although there are still plenty of days that I don’t necessarily want to do so, I can actually influence the way that I feel by behaving in that manner. In Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman cites examples of how they induce particular feelings within survey participants to examine the effects of emotion on decision making and judgment. Those participants who held a pencil in their mouths horizontally while completing the survey had formed a smile expression with their faces which made them feel statistically happier and find jokes funnier. Conversely, those who held the pencil in their mouths vertically were forced into a frowning or negative expression which made them comparably more miserable. If such surprisingly small and simple actions and behaviors can induce such effects, imagine the impact of more grandiose gestures or deliberate effort.
In times when we feel an unpleasant emotion, we can often offset it by acting in the opposite manner. If you feel shy, you can act friendly or confident; if you feel annoyed, you can make a joke or act especially patient. It’s not easy, but I do know from personal experience, that when I start to feel irritated, acting irritated only makes things worse (and disproportionately more so for me, since the object of my irritation often seems blissfully unaware of their contribution to the feeling). However, when I smile and behave in a polite and patient manner, I do actually become more patient and (almost always) happier as a result. Although feeling sad and lonely often makes someone draw deeper into recluse, withdrawal and inactivity, this tendency towards isolation is only effective in the short run. In finding small ways to be active or engage with others, one increases the likelihood of having positive experiences. After all, moving and building relationships with others are both proven to be incredibly powerful in increasing our positive affect and happiness – another illustration of actions creating our emotions.
A further example supporting the fact that we should act the way we want to feel is evident when it comes to our health. Over a recent brunch with some insightful friends, one pointed out that today we can outsource a lot of the mundane or unpleasant aspects of life by “throwing a bit of money at the problem,” however there is still no magic bullet or substitute for protecting and maintaining our own health. To feel (and actually be healthy), we must eat and exercise in a way that supports that objective. We feel healthy when we act in healthy ways. Although there will be many upcoming opportunities for special treats and time with friends and family with Christmas less than four weeks away (!!!), we can avoid a total off-the-rails experience by maintaining consistency and commitment to healthy habits where and when appropriate. While I wouldn’t suggest someone completely abstain from their favorite, once-a-year holiday dessert, I would argue that we continue to eat according to our normal standards for our workday lunches leading up to the parties and family gatherings. In this way, the “specialness” of your favorite treat is preserved and you are able to enjoy the holiday without feeling meh until the new year starts. I personally will be doing just that – with some of my BAU paleo and whole30 favorites including this Chicken with Almond Butter Satay Dipping Sauce and Coconut Cauliflower Rice. After all, I know that the deliciousness of almond butter and coconut anything are always unbeatable and bound to make me feel satisfied and happily healthy. I’m just
acting eating the way I want to feel.
- Chicken Breast 1 lb. (450 g)
- Full Fat Coconut Milk .25 cup (60 mL)
- Avocado Oil 1 TBSP
- Garlic Cloves, Minced 2 each
- Thai Red Curry Paste 2 TBSP (adjust down if you like less spicy)
- Coconut Aminos 1 TBSP
- Juice of 1 Lime
- Fresh Cilantro/Coriander, Chopped 1 TBSP
- Sea Salt .25 TSP
- Smooth Almond Butter 2 TBSP
- Full Fat Coconut Milk .25 cup (60 mL)
- Coconut Aminos 1 TBSP
- Sesame Oil 1 TBSP
- Tabasco 1 TBSP
- Ground Ginger .1 TSP
- Garlic Cloves, Minced 2 each
- Jalapeno/Green Chile 1 each finely chopped (if you don't like spicy, remove the seeds)
- Cauliflower Head 1 each
- Unsweetened Shredded/Desiccated Coconut .5 cup (40 g)
- Sea Salt .5 TSP
- Zest and Juice of 1 Lime
- Green Onions/Scallions, Chopped 2 each
- Start by cutting the chicken into small 2" x 2" pieces and place into a bowl which can be covered in fridge overnight.
- Mix the remaining chicken ingredients in your blender or food processor and pour over the chicken. The longer you allow this to marinate the better (minimum 4 hours up to 24).
- After finished marinating, preheat the oven to 350 F / 180 C and line a baking sheet with foil.
- Scoop the chicken out of the marinade and place on foil lined tray (some excess marinade is not an issue).
- Bake for about 10 -15 minutes or until done.
- Simply combine all the ingredients in your food processor or blender and be prepared to swoon!
- Lie a couple sheets of paper towel inside a colander/strainer in your sink.
- Chop the cauliflower into bite-sized florets about 1" x 1" and place only a few at a time into your blender or food processor. Pulse a few times just to break apart into the size and consistency of rice (not too much or it'll get mushy) then remove to the prepared colander/strainer.
- Repeat for remaining cauliflower.
- Squeeze any excess moisture from the cauliflower.
- Heat a large skillet over medium high heat and then add the cauliflower and coconut, stirring well to combine and cooking until the coconut turns a light golden brown.
- Remove from heat and stir in the remaining ingredients