May 7, 2024

Using “Opposite Action” to Get Sh!t Done

Author: Brianna Gwathney

Ever had one of those days when motivation seems to have taken a vacation, leaving you stranded in a sea of “meh”?

In an overworked and overstimulated world, folks are finding themselves coping with the stresses of daily life by doom-scrolling, bed-rotting, and overdosing on avoidance. While most of us enjoy a good ol’ day in bed every now and then, when left unmonitored, these maladaptive coping strategies can leave us with disorganized homes, disconnected social lives, and dissociation from self and the world. 

Fear not, because today we’re diving into some wisdom straight from the Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) playbook. It’s called “Opposite Action”, and it’s a game-changer for those moments when you’re stuck in neutral with daunting to-do lists, desire for connection, and dissociative tendencies. 

Breaking Down Opposite Action

Opposite action is a DBT skill that involves choosing to do exactly the opposite of what your overwhelming emotions are telling you to do.

Alright, let’s dive into the nitty-gritty:

  1. Identify the Funk: First, let’s name the beast. Are you feeling overwhelmed, uninspired, exhausted, or plain old “bleh”?
  2. Question the Urge: Next, take a step back and ask yourself, “Is this urge an attempt to avoid truly serving and supporting me, or is this just my inner lazy bones crying out for motivation?”.
  3. Switch Gears: Now, here’s where the magic happens. Instead of giving into that urge, do the exact opposite. Feeling like a recluse? Reach out to a friend. Tempted to binge watch a series you have no interest in? Go for a walk in the park instead!
  4. Stay Grounded: As you venture into uncharted opposite action territory, remember to keep one foot firmly planted in the present moment. Take a breath, check in with yourself, and allow whatever feelings come up to merely exist.
  5. Celebrate the Wins: Finally, give yourself a high-five for every small victory along the way. Progress, no matter how small, deserves a round of applause. (This is my most favorite component of opposite action. You are your own biggest cheerleader!)

Why Opposite Action Works

The purpose of opposite action is not to ignore or invalidate emotion; in actuality, the process of recognizing the “problematic” emotion and choosing to respond differently honors the emotion by creating distance between your feelings and actions.

Additionally, research has shown that DBT techniques, including Opposite Action, can be pivotal when it comes to managing emotions and improving overall well-being (Linehan, 2015). Recent studies have reinforced these findings, demonstrating the effectiveness of DBT in enhancing emotion regulation and reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety (Lynch et al., 2020). 

Wrapping Up

As busy humans in a stressful world, we all have those days when motivation feels as elusive as winning the lottery. However, with Opposite Action in your toolkit, you have the power to shake things up and breathe some agency, life, and freedom back into your life. So, next time you’re feeling stuck in a rut, remember that: 

  1. Everyone feels this way from time to time. 
  2. Ruts don’t last forever. 
  3. You get to choose how long your stuckness lasts. (We’re all entitled to the occasional day in bed … AND we deserve to live fully present, connected, and balanced lives.) 
  4. You’ve got this! 


Linehan, M. M. (2015). DBT® skills training manual (2nd ed.). The Guilford Press.

Lynch, T. R., Trost, W. T., Salsman, N., & Linehan, M. M. (2020). Dialectical behavior therapy for emotion dysregulation: A review of the empirical evidence. Current Opinion in Psychology, 37, 37-42.

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