Another hot one in Baltimore as I hit week 48 of my 52-week hiking challenge. And it was a CHALLENGE. I found myself asking why I ever decided to do it in the first place. I became more and more miserable as my brain slowly melted in the 94% humidity and didn’t see how anyone could be out in these conditions and enjoy it.
Then came the insane trail runner who ran past me with a smile on his face, looking happy as a clam while I looked like a sweaty blobby mess of agony oozing along the trail. Of course he’s insane because HUMIDITY!
Time to revisit last week’s blog post. You might remember that I introduced the idea that it is actually our thoughts that drive how we feel, which drives what we do, which drives what ends up happening in our lives.
The revolutionary part of this thinking for me was the part where it’s our thinking, and not our situation, that dictates how we feel.
How many times have you said something like:
“My boss made me feel like crap today when he questioned my work in front of the president of the company.”
“My mom made me so happy when she complimented my cooking.”
“I’m going to be LIVID if so-and-so becomes President.”
Here’s the thing: we tend to attribute how we feel to things outside of ourselves – including what people say or do, as well as random events outside our control. Since we don’t have control over what other people say or do, much less who wins the presidential election or how high the humidity will get, a lot of us end up believing that our feelings just happen to us.
You would be amazed at how hard we tend to fight to keep believing that we don’t have any choice in how we feel. We do this because then we don’t have to take responsibility for ourselves, which always seems easier. The problem with this belief is that it holds us back and keeps us at the mercy of our outside circumstances. It can keep us stuck in hurtful patterns and actually cause us more pain in the long run.
There’s two phases in changing this belief: first, you have to actually accept that for every given situation, its possible for there to be a unique reaction from every single person affected by the situation. Second, you have to accept that you actually have a choice about what you think about any given situation.
This week we’re just going to concentrate on Phase 1.
For me it took a good illustration to get it solidified in my mind that a single circumstance doesn’t necessarily trigger the same reaction (feeling) in every person, so here’s one for you:
Hypothetically speaking, let’s say there’s a national election for President of the United States coming up in the near future. Let’s say that the two main candidates couldn’t be further from each other in terms of where they stand on the issues. And just for fun, let’s say that both candidates have said and done some things that could be construed as very un-presidential.
I know, I know, it’s hard to imagine, but stick with me here.
In our hypothetical scenario, let’s just take one isolated event: one of the candidates on national television says the words: “Denmark, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.” (names of countries have been changed to protect the innocent)
That’s the situation.
In my hypothetical universe, there’s a high probability that those who support the candidate in question will assume that he/she was being sarcastic. They most likely will insist he/she was making a joke. They may feel the emotion of amusement.
I’m also fairly sure that there would be a good number of people (who don’t support the candidate in question) who will be absolutely appalled. They will think that it is incredibly inappropriate for a presidential hopeful to joke about such a thing. Or they might even believe that the candidate wasn’t joking at all. They may feel the emotion of outrage.
Amusement. Outrage. Two completely opposite feelings based on the same sixteen words uttered by one individual. The only thing that comes in between the sixteen words and your feelings are your thoughts about those sixteen words.
“But what about death?” you’ll say. “Doesn’t everyone automatically feel grief when they lose someone close to them?”
And I’d say, depends on your thoughts about the person who died.
“What about if you’re falling off a cliff?” you’ll say. “Doesn’t everyone instantly feel fear?”
Depends on your thoughts about what happens to you when you hit the ground.
The thought always comes before the feeling…even if it’s in a lightning instant, it’s there. Accepting this and developing the skill of noticing the thoughts behind your feelings is half the battle when it comes to acquiring the power to feel the way you want to feel.
Just sit with this concept this week. Notice when you are feeling a certain way and try to figure out the thought that is causing the feeling. Be curious…not judge-y. You might not like the thoughts you’re having at the moment, but try to refrain from condemning yourself for having them. Don’t try to change them, either…just observe them. Becoming aware of what you’re thinking in any given situation is the foundation for everything I’m going to talk about in the coming weeks.
Questions? Comments? That’s what the box at the bottom of this post is for…go for it! And have a great week!