• Sarah Murphy, LCSW

The Four Players in Every Moment




Despair comes in many shapes and sizes, with various breadths, depths, and causes. When it arrives in our heads and hearts it feels heavy, inescapable, and permanent, like a fly that keeps reappearing even after you’ve paid the exterminator. We ruminate on thoughts, judgments, and criticisms--usually about ourselves--and feed the despair, without our permission or awareness. It’s as if a tennis match between our thoughts and feelings play inside our forehead, an endless volley without cheers--and no one gets a trophy at the end.

Action is the antidote to despair.

-Joan Baez


If we want to stop the debilitating, ruminating match between thinking and feeling, we must welcome two crucial players to the game: Action and Physiology. They are gold medalists who are steadfast and loyal and who keep things real. They understand the limits of players like Thinking and Feeling, who get too much publicity. Action and Physiology are humble warriors, like Mia Hamm and Kevin Durant, who model skill and sportsmanship in equal measure while bringing out the best in their teammates.


Feeling and Thinking may fancy themselves the most important players, but they’re not. Once Physiology steps in to join the game between Thinking and Feeling he/she asks you, the manager of the game, “How are you feeling physically? Do you feel short of breath? Is your heart racing? Are you tired? Hungry? Do you feel beaten up by too much thinking and feeling? Let’s pause. Take a deep breath, look in the mirror, and realize you are not just a talking head, you are a WHOLE person, with a body.”


In an instant, your focus shifts, and you notice how heavily you’re breathing and how tight your shoulders feel. Then, Action arrives saying, “Splash some cold water on your face, old friend! Turn on some music, call a friend, and remember what IS going well. Drop down and do 20 push-ups, get your body moving, meditate on Stuart Little, Wilbur, or Mary Poppins! Just do something! Read Desiderata: ‘You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees or the stars…’ You are in charge, my dear friend, but you have to lead.”


We get used to practicing certain feelings and thoughts with such regularity that they run away with the ball if we let them. If they get too far, they’ll ruin the game. So, remember, you are the coach and manager. This is your game, your life. Thoughts, Feelings, Physiology, and Action are equal partners who play for you but, left to their own devices, can become expert at hurting you. You are a wonderful human, and it's your job to care of yourself, to accept that you are perfectly imperfect, and to build a life worth living. To do that, you need thinking, feeling, action and physiology--they’re here to work for you, not against you. They need you to be a leader and coach.

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© 2018 by Sarah McIsaac Murphy