In my guide to why we do anything, I explain that everything we do is because of an emotion. So now the big question is:
How can we change how we feel, so that we can cope better, behave smarter, do more, and create lasting change?
The first step is understanding how we create our emotions.
Here is a simple scenario:
Our minds are like open aquariums, and our thoughts are like fishes swimming around and about. We have around 60,000 thoughts per day!
Each thought is a sentence that appears and swims through our minds.
Many of these thoughts are basic observations about our environment and what we’re doing.
Oh it’s 8:00, I need to turn off the stove. Look that funny commercial is on again. Where is my oven mitt…here it is. Food looks good. I need to wipe the stove top.
Thoughts appear, swim around, and swim out. They’re helping us do our thing. We don’t cling on to any of them. We’re feeling fine.
Then suddenly a particular thought appears. It’s not just a fleeting observation. It’s a personal judgement that catches our attention.
I should have someone to enjoy this with.
Now that we are paying attention to it, we are mentally holding onto it. It doesn’t pass through with the others. Now trapped, it starts to poke around our synapses and limbic system. We’re starting to feel a change in our mood.
I wish I had someone here to enjoy this with…. I wish I had someone here…
The thought is triggering a change in chemicals and nerve reactions. A different vibration in your body. A slow spreading feeling of loneliness.
Our brain likes to make sense out of whatever we’re focusing on. It likes to look for evidence to support what we’re choosing to believe in the moment. If we allow the thought to keep playing around in there, the thinking starts to multiply into similar thoughts about the original thought.
I wish I had more friends. Maybe something is wrong with me. Maybe I’m uninteresting. Epicurus said one should never eat alone. Maybe I’m destined to be alone. What is wrong with me? Oh god, I’m living a pathetic life.
The swarm of thinking stimulates our limbic system, and the vibration in our body changes again. Now a softly thudding, deep sinking feeling. Sadness.
You’re still right where you were a moment ago when everything was ok, standing in front of your freshly cooked meal. Nothing has changed, but now you’re losing your appetite. You now want to wash it all down with some vodka and think about calling the ex that you swore you’d never talk to again.
You’re about to throw away an evening that had positivity and productivity three minutes ago.
The only thing that has changed are the thoughts in your head.
This is where we often get lost.
It all occurred so fast, we don’t know what’s happened.
We don’t realize that it’s just a thought we’ve trapped in there, harassing our limbic system.
How a new thought can change our experience:
Here’s the same scenario. Thoughts are swimming around and out.
A thought appears and lingers.
I wish I had someone here to enjoy this with.
It catches our attention and stimulates our limbic system. We begin to feel lonely.
But then we catch ourselves. We know that there’s some thought up there that’s affecting our emotion.
This seems simple, but it is actually a huge deal. We now are aware of why we are experiencing something. It’s like shining a light into the mind and realizing there’s a thought — a sentence in our mind — that’s causing the way we feel.
We pause for a bit and take the time to figure out exactly what that thought could be. We take an intentional look inside our minds and see what’s going on in there.
Once we’ve identified the thought, we can consciously decide if we want to keep thinking this thought. We decide that we want to get back to feeling normal, and perhaps even feel happy. Now our mind goes to work to help us achieve this. We shift our focus. New thoughts start to flow in.
That’s silly. I’ve been looking forward to some me-time. This is going to be so peaceful.
We’ve found a thought that we like. We have now started to direct our attention to this new thinking, and we allow it swim around. Now that the old thought is no longer being entertained, it calms down. Our mind is opening up again.
This is going to be so peaceful.
The more we focus on this thought, the brain goes to work in finding support for it and the thinking begins to multiply.
This is going to be so peaceful. I’m so glad I get to have quality time to myself. Thank god I took the time to cook this meal instead of just running out for fast food. I’m finally taking care of myself. This feels quite luxurious.
The limbic system sends new signals into our body; new vibrations. A mild spreading of warmth inside the ribcage. A feeling of pride mixed with gratitude permeates our core. In the meantime, the old thought has quietly made an exit.
Now we are ready to sit down and enjoy our dinner, and perhaps muse over possible ideas for our budding project.
This pleasant moment, brought to you by your thoughts.
A quick run-down:
You perceive something outside of yourself: a person, a situation, an object.
You then have a thought about it.
That thought creates a feeling.
When you feel a certain way, you will take action in a certain way.
And that then creates the result of everything in life.
Here is a quick animation:
Putting it into practice:
It is so great to realize that we have a choice. We can sit and have a lonely-sad meal and create an unproductive night. Or we can decide to bring some awareness to what we’re feeling. We can think better-feeling thoughts, and thus have a more preferable outcome.
The first step is to realize that a thought is causing the emotion.
Realize that it’s just a sentence that is swimming through your brain.
Look at this thought. Can you figure out exactly what the sentence is? Is it one main thought or is it multiple thoughts?
There may be many in there, but see if you can extract the main thoughts that are causing the painful feelings.
Write them all down, so you can physically see them. There’s power in taking something out of your head, putting it down on paper, and taking a good look at everything.
Be curious. Be kind. Remember, each thought is just a sentence in your mind. You have a choice if you want to keep it captive in there, or let it swim away. How intriguing to know!
This may all sound like common sense, but unless we actually humor ourselves and take the time to work on it, it’s just another concept. The power is in the practice.
Next up: the process of changing your thoughts and feelings. But first practice paying attention. Notice how certain thoughts make you feel. Once you are aware of the thoughts that are causing your feelings, you are already so much more aware than most people.
Welcome back to your inner power!