Every feeling you experience is preceded by a thought. Hence, feelings are symptomatic of the thoughts you are thinking. Logically then, if you want to change your feelings about any situation, you need to work on changing your thoughts.
At least it sounds logical. But if it is logical, then why is it that people often take measures that are really about treating the symptoms (their feelings about a situation) rather than treating the cause (their belief and thoughts about a situation)?
Are you treating symptoms rather than dealing with the causes of your feelings? Let’s explore… Do you go shopping because it makes you feel better even though you don’t really have the money? Do you drink more alcohol than you know you should (even if you know you end up regretting it the next day)? Do you keep saying that you will quit smoking? Do you find yourself regularly frustrated, angry or upset at another person for the results you have in your life? Do you regularly set goals and then not follow through on them? Do you regularly have fall outs with friends, family, colleagues and/or clients? Do you keep eating poorly (even if you are overweight)?
The list goes on. You likely see the theme in these scenarios. Are any of these scenarios playing out in your life?
The results we are getting are driven by the actions we are taking. The actions we are taking are driven by our feelings. Our feelings are driven by our thoughts.
Logically (there’s that word again) then, real and permanent change will come from exploring and dealing with your thoughts. All too often however, sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously, people take measures that treat the symptoms.
Why do people do this? For starters, it’s easier. The feelings are right there, in the moment. So that’s were our attention goes and we start treating them with the first thing we’ve learned alleviates our negative feelings. Plus, we get practiced at treating the symptoms because we’ve been doing it all our lives. We’ve directly (through instruction) and indirectly (through observation) learned ways of treating our feelings (symptoms). For example, people learn that if they buy something, they instantly feel better. Or if I distract myself with one of my favourite activities I can pretend the issue isn’t there. Or if I eat some chocolate I get really good feelings (anyone who knows me knows that chocolate is my quick fix of choice!) Our own personal quick-fixes are time-tested and they appear to work (in the short term at least).
Digging a little deeper into what is going on below the feelings takes more work. But that doesn’t mean that the people who don’t do the digging are lazy. Not at all. Most of the people I do coaching work with would definitely do the work if they knew how; if they didn’t feel like they’ve tried it in the past and it didn’t work. Or, in today’s society, it seems that everyone is so busy and overwhelmed with everything they need to do that they get frustrated. From a feeling of frustration is it simply quicker and easier for people to treat the symptoms and alleviate their current negative feelings that are impacting their ability to function.
We opt for the quick fix to feel better, and we may even be in denial that it was a quick fix, but it’s not usually because of laziness. Exploring the thoughts beneath our feelings is not usually something we are taught to do. As we grow up we develop some understanding of how our thoughts are connected to our feelings but then we get a bit (or a lot) of braining washing from movies and TV dramas on how feelings are so central. It is also common for people to have their whole world and their role in it change continually as they get old while not changing their internal map about how the world works (see also last weeks article on having an outdated map).
Exploring your thoughts in order to have a better understanding and management of your feelings is a skills that can be learned. Some the learnings are easy and some you may find confronting and scary. That’s okay; your brain has a default setting about avoiding change. The good news is that changing your thoughts is mostly about becoming more powerful in small ways on a regular basis.
When thinking about making small changes on a regular basis, here are some ideas to explore:
- Understand that simply telling yourself to ‘think positive’ can be a type of quick fix. If you regularly hear yourself saying ‘think positive’ but rarely feel more positive as a result then take that as a sign to start digging as little deeper.
- Form an alliance with a friend who will hold you responsible for the feelings you are experiencing and the results you are getting (and you do the same for them). Having friends who will listen when you are feeling down is nice. Having friends who will hold you accountable will help you grow. If you can’t find a friend like that, get a coach.
- Understand that when you feel hurt by someone, that person is not deliberately trying to hurt you. Even if the other person themselves thinks they are deliberately trying to hurt you, their goal is ultimately to try and make themselves feel better. Know that this is the case for you too when you behave that way.