Here’s a quick question for you: have a look and see how you’re feeling this very moment and ask yourself, why do you feel that way? Seriously, take the time to figure out what exactly is the cause of whatever emotion you’re experiencing right this very instant.
Relationship counselors, life coaches, Catholic priests in the confession booth and even lawyers have all heard people explaining why they think their lives are simply not the way they want them to be. And usually, the reason goes a little something like this:
“My university course is making me stressed…”
“My wife’s colleague is making me jealous…”
“My horrible job is making me angry…”
“This weather is making me depressed…”
When I asked you above to find the cause for your own current emotional state, did you say something a little similar? Maybe you were “grumpy because the people next door are making noise” or, “bored because there’s nothing good on the telly.” But as innocent as these explanations are, the trouble is they’re not really true.
Let me explain. As a life coach, I’m all about the awesomeness of self-awareness and learning how to take charge of your thoughts, your feelings and hopefully, the dreams you have for your life.
When you frame your emotions as something that other people make you feel, though, you’re quietly giving away all that power. You’re handing over your own agency and control to external forces.
If a 300-pound gorilla walked into the room now, physically picked you up and threw you out the window, then I guess you could technically say the gorilla made you break your leg on the way down. But the stone cold truth is that for the most part, nobody makes you feel anything. Nobody holds a gun to your head and forces you to feel any emotion. And even if someone did have a gun to your head, whether you felt angry or calm or afraid would still be completely up to you.
What I’m saying is that the way we respond to events in the world is entirely under our control.
When you say that someone or something else “makes me feel…” you’re actually subtly disempowering yourself. Things in the world happen, of course, but your emotions about them are all your own.
I hear you asking, so what?
Well, if you truly believe that the source of your negative emotions is outside of you, then you have immediately convinced yourself that fixing things is someone else’s problem. And you can’t do anything about the choices someone else makes. So you rob yourself of the opportunity to gain emotional mastery.
If your wife was flirting with a colleague, for example, forcing her to change jobs doesn’t solve the problem, since your jealousy didn’t actually come from the colleague …it came from inside you. Saying that the weather is to blame for your bad mood immediately makes you powerless – what on earth can you do about the weather, right?
Because the source of the depression is not the weather, it’s you. And seeing things this way allows you to start thinking of solutions, and start seeing the deeper cause of things.
So the million dollar question is – what IS the deeper cause of things anyway?
Well, that’s simple. Thoughts.
Your university course isn’t making you stressed – a course is just a neutral thing that has completely different effects on different students. No, it’s your thoughts about your course that are stressing you. Your job isn’t making you angry. Unless you have a very strange job, there are no 300-pound gorillas or guns involved. It’s only your thoughts about your job that are stressing you.
The great thing about reframing situations this way is that you instantly get your power back. Why? Because thoughts can be changed! Thoughts are 100%, absolutely, completely and utterly under your control.
I’m not naïve of course, and it may actually be true that you have a cheating wife and an awful job. But it’s only once you start looking at what is and isn’t under your control that you can really do anything about it anyway.
If you answered my initial question with a form of “X is making me feel Y”, then try to rework that right now. Instead of saying, “I’m jealous because of what’s-his-face who always flirts with my wife”, say, “I’m jealous because of my thoughts. My last wife cheated and lied to me, and I haven’t learnt to trust again, and that’s making me feel jealous”
The first explanation gets you nowhere and means that how bad you feel is simply up to whatever what’s-his-face does. The second – well, that’s where things start to get interesting! If you follow the second explanation, you immediately see what a possible solution could be.
Can you think of other ways to reframe the source of your emotions so that you are in control?