In the last piece, I wrote about the difficult phase I was going through in my current relationship. As I shared in that piece, my partner and I had spent most of our brief time together in a place where time ceased to exist for both of us. After the initial few weeks of building a strong emotional connection organically, we hit a rough patch during a week where we had some difficult conversations, which were mostly a result of my sulking (read, ego). This raised a red flag in her mind about our potential future and made her question the integrity of our relationship. She said she didn’t feel the same about me ever since we had those conversations (despite giving herself a week to feel the same) and it was her gut feeling that our relationship would go nowhere.
This reminded me of a story Stephen Covey shared in his book about a time he was speaking at a seminar on proactivity. A man stood up, and while he agreed with Covey, for the most part, he was skeptical about how it applied to his particular situation. Specifically, he shared the story of his marriage, about how he and his partner didn’t have the same feelings for each other they used to have, that they didn’t love each other anymore and that this was particularly concerning for them given they had three children.
He said they found it difficult to love each other because there was no feeling of love. The man questioned: How do you love someone when the feeling of love isn’t there? To which Covey replied, “If the feeling (of love) isn’t there, then that’s a good reason to love her”. The man asked, “How do you love when you don’t love?” To which Covey said, “My friend, love is a verb. Love—the feeling—is a fruit of love, the verb. So, love her. Serve her. Sacrifice. Listen to her. Empathize. Appreciate. Affirm her. Are you willing to do that?”
Love is a verb. Reactive people make it a feeling. They’re driven by feelings. Hollywood has generally scripted us to believe that we are not responsible, that we are a product of our feelings. But the Hollywood script does not describe the reality. If our feelings control our actions, it is because we have abdicated our responsibility and empowered them to do so.
Reactive people are also affected by their social environment, by the “social weather”. When people treat them well, they feel well; when people don’t, they become defensive or protective. Reactive people build their emotional lives around the behavior of others, empowering the weaknesses of other people to control them. Reactive people are driven by feelings, by circumstances, by conditions, by their environment.
Our behavior is a product of our own conscious choice, based on values, rather than a product of our conditions, based on feeling. Because we are, by nature, proactive, if our lives are a function of our conditioning and conditions, it is because we have, by conscious decision or by default, chosen to empower those things to control us. In making such a choice, we become reactive.
The ability to subordinate an impulse to a value is the essence of the proactive person.
Proactive people make love a verb. Love is something that you do: the sacrifices you make, the giving of self, like a mother bringing a newborn into the world.
Proactive people are still influenced by external stimuli, whether physical, social, or psychological. But their response to the stimuli, conscious or unconscious, is a value-based choice or response.
Coming back to my story, one of the things I shared with my partner was while I couldn’t argue with how she felt, the fact that she didn’t feel the same about me was a feeling. This feeling could arise at any point in a relationship — be it 2 months, 2 years, or 20 years down the line. Does that mean that at some point we give up on our relationship by saying we don’t feel the love we once did for our partner (whatever the reason may be)? I don’t know. While that might not be uncommon in many relationships today, here’s what Covey has written:
Love is a value that is actualized through loving actions. Proactive people subordinate feelings to values. Love, the feeling, can be recaptured.
Here’s the thing, when we meet someone, we don’t fall in love with them on the first day. In fact, we don’t even remember the day we fell in love with them. That’s not to say it didn’t happen, but it’s much easier to prove over time. What likely happened was we appreciated and affirmed the other person, and we did little things for them along the way, all of which cumulatively, over time, led the other person to believe they loved us (and vice-versa). You see, love, the feeling, is a result of loving actions over time.
Both of us acted in a way that made us feel love for the other. It doesn’t happen overnight. It’s only when we do things for others over time that they fall in love with us (and vice-versa). It’s not about the events that take place, but rather it’s about consistency, not intensity. It’s about values, not feelings. Love is a value that is actualized through loving actions.
Despite my partner questioning our relationship, I feel optimistic about us. Here’s why. When we believe there’s something there, we commit ourselves to an act of service. We continue to do those loving actions for others (because we believe in the relationship and because we love them unconditionally) and at some point, those actions will translate to love, the feeling. It’s not a matter of if this will happen, but when. But we don’t do those things for them just so they will experience that feeling of love again. We do it because it’s who we are at our core, which is why they loved us to begin with. They loved us for what we did for them, and not what we said.
Consistency matters more than intensity. This is as true in relationships as it is with brushing our teeth twice every day for a couple of minutes or doing exercise a few days a week for 30 minutes. Doing loving actions for our partners consistently over time is no different than committing to an exercise plan. We don’t exercise to get “results”, which is simply a by-product of our healthy habits. We exercise so we may stay fit, which enables us to be our best selves in every other aspect of our lives. In fact, the first few days of exercise are not going to be enough to see any visible results on the outside. But that doesn’t mean nothing’s happening inside.
It’s easy to give up and say there are no results, so it must not be effective, and ergo, we should give up, and it’s easy to quit that way. But the idea is that we should show up every day and do the work without expecting results. We will see results at some point as long as we are consistent. We just don’t know the exact day when. But, ultimately we are not in it for the “results”. We do it because it’s who we are. And who we are is greater than what we do. The doing of actions is simply a result of being the person we strive to be. As Epictetus, the Stoic philosopher, would say, “First, say to yourself what you would be; then do what you have to do”.
There may be times we may not “feel” like doing things, but we show up and do them anyway. For instance, going back to the example of exercising, I’ve never once regretted doing the exercise, despite not feeling like it. In fact, I’ve only ever felt the opposite, which is great. This goes to show how our actions lead us to feeling great rather than feeling inspired to take action, which may happen occasionally but is far from reliable.
We must put our values ahead of our feelings (or emotions). We can exercise our will to make value-based choices. We have the power to control our own feelings rather than letting them determine our actions. We can say one of two things, which is a matter of choice: “I can’t change how I feel” VS “I control my own feelings”. Here’s what Covey wrote:
That [former] language comes from a basic paradigm on determinism. And the whole spirit of it is the transfer of responsibility. I am not responsible, not able to choose my response.
I show up and do the work most days not because “I feel like it”, but because I am a pro (and even then I miss some days, which I feel less than great about later). But, a pro is driven by values, not feelings. Here’s what I wrote earlier:
We might not always be motivated to do things that are important to us, and that’s okay as long as we do the work regardless of how we feel. That’s what it takes to be a pro.
In challenging times, it’s not uncommon for our emotions to get the better of us. We may even be overcome by our ego, which is only concerned with our past and whose job is to keep us alone. We may have our fears/insecurities and it’s easy to let them determine our feelings. But, as Covey pointed out:
We are not our feelings. We are not our moods. We are not even our thoughts. The very fact that we can think about these things separates us from them and from the animal world. Self-awareness enables us to stand apart and examine even the way we “see” ourselves—our self paradigm, the most fundamental paradigm of effectiveness.
Love, the feeling, is a result of loving actions over time that we do for others. The feeling can be recaptured anytime. When the feeling of love isn’t there, then that’s a reason to love (our partner). We can choose to put our values ahead of our feelings, despite it feeling inauthentic. Consistency matters over intensity as much in relationships as it does in work or personal lives.
Moreover, our past doesn’t have to be indicative of our future. Just because we missed a few days of exercise doesn’t mean we need to keep doing that. The same is true in our relationships. We can overcome our ego. We don’t have to hold on to pain from our past. We can set it aside, hope for the best, and move forward with our partners. We can serve, listen, empathize, appreciate, and affirm them. We are a product of our values (not feelings).
Proaction is a huge part of love. When we believe in something, we follow it up with action consistently. It’s only by doing the work over time can we influence the outcome, which is simply a byproduct of our actions (and not the reason for doing them).