My last post was about changing one little word in your vocabulary. About changing ‘have to’ (or ‘need to’) to ‘get to’. I challenged you to spend a day, or even a week, ‘getting to’ do all the things you used to ‘have to’ do. I do hope you tried it, because it really does make a huge difference in how you FEEL about the thing you are doing (or are about to do). The second reason I hope you played that little game along with me is because you may need the experience of actually noticing how you feel about something, really understanding how changing one little word in your daily speech can have such an effect on how you feel about that thing, and be willing to test that theory a little farther.
So, if this article, and the ‘game’ I offer at the end, seems a little far-fetched, or a little bit out there for you, go back to my last post, read it, and try that game first. Then come back here and try this one!
Now, on to the fun!
So, now that you’ve had an up close view of how much sway the way we talk about something has over how we feel about it, it’s time to go on to a more advanced level of the game! Now that you’ve changed ‘have to’ to ‘get to’ in relation to the things you are doing with your time, now, lets add another little word into our emotional vocabulary that might feel a little strange at first.
There are so many things that we do in our daily lives because we honestly believe that there is no other option, or rather, the other options that are out there are simply not available to us. Life, all the life that we have experienced up until this very moment, has taught us that we can’t do certain things, that we’re not allowed to do and feel certain things, especially if we want to do or feel certain things in response to the situation we are in. I know I’m getting a little confusing, so let me try to explain it with… DA DA DA… an analogy!
So, imagine you are sitting at a stoplight, and the light turns green, but the car in front of you doesn’t move. At that moment, you have two choices. You can either remain calm, curious as to what the hold up is, or you can get angry or impatient, because they aren’t doing what they’re supposed to do when the light turns green, or because you’re late, or whatever reason you have given yourself to support how you’re feeling. Your inner dialogue sort of writes itself from this point. You don’t actually make a conscious decision to get irritated, or frustrated, it seems to just… happen. Only, it doesn’t.
What’s happening at this point is that you have spent your entire life learning and then enacting the learned response to circumstances, and your brain makes the decision to react calmly (or angrily) by the hundreds of thousands, millions upon millions, of other times you have responded to similar situations. Situations like, the light is green and I should be going, but I am not going. Or, I asked a question and they should answer it, but they aren’t. Or, to be on time for work, I should be walking out the door right now, but I’m not. Every time you have had the feeling that an external circumstance should be other than what it was, you have trained yourself to feel happiness if it is ‘better’ than what you think it should be, or anger (irritation, frustration, sorrow, aggravation… pick whatever label you like) when it is ‘less than’ what you think it should be. You have spent a lifetime training your brain how to respond, so it does so for you at lightening speed, as it should do. (And as annoying as it is while your brain is doing this and the result is an unpleasant feeling you experience, once you get the hang of how to create pleasant, positive feelings and emotion, even in less than ideal circumstances, you will love this power your brain has!)
For the sake of time and clarity, I will fill in your blanks for you, to show you how this works…
How I feel when I am stuck behind a slow driver, or someone stopped at a green light: irritated, frustrated, angry
How I’d like to feel: calm, concerned for the other driver, solution oriented (fill in your own preferred feeling).
The first step to adjusting this is to make a conscious thought that says something along the lines of,
I feel X about this situation, but I am also allowed to feel X about it, if I wanted to.
I’m feeling angry about being stuck behind this idiot, but I’m also allowed to feel gratitude about it, too.
Grateful?? Whoa, Amanda! Pump the brakes! Listen, we agreed to give these crackpot ideas of yours a try, but you’re just getting a little wild now. I’m not trying to be grateful about being stuck behind idiots at stoplights, ever!
No? What about if a car shoots through the intersection, right about the time you would have been crossing? What if being stuck behind this idiot saved your car from being smashed into? Would you be grateful then? Or what if it had saved your life? Could you be grateful then? Would gratitude now be an allowed emotion for you?
Yeah, okay. Fine. I could be grateful to be there then, but not if there’s no runaway car hurtling through the intersection.
No? What if I told you that the runaway car would have actually been at the next intersection, but you weren’t going through it at the time, because of this idiot right here, sitting stopped at a green light. Would you be allowed to feel gratitude then?
Okay, I guess so. I get your point. I’m allowed to be grateful, even when I’m sitting behind an idiot in traffic.
Not ‘even when‘, you’re allowed to feel grateful because you are sitting in traffic behind an idiot. And why is he an idiot, anyway? I mean, the guy saved your life, and not only are you not grateful, but you got mad at him, and called him an idiot! A lot!
Well, he’s an idiot for sitting still at a green light, but I don’t suppose it’s very nice of me to call him an idiot if him doing that could save my life.
See? And it did.
Him, sitting at the stoplight. It saved your life. At the next stoplight, just about the time you would have been crossing the road, a blue SUV ran a red light, and would have killed you, if you’d been there.
Bullshit! Prove it!
Prove it didn’t.
I can’t. I can’t prove it, but you can’t prove it did, either.
Exactly. So why is there ever one single moment where you’re caught behind someone who doesn’t pull off as fast as you want them to when the light turns green, or drive as fast as you think they should be driving on the highway, or why, any circumstance you ever find yourself in, short of something that kills you dead, why you can’t come up with a story that can’t be proved or disproved, and choose to believe the positive version, and be grateful for it??
The moment you acknowledge how you feel in this moment, and you allow yourself to take control of how you feel by giving yourself permission to rewrite the story in a way that allows you to feel the way you want to feel at the end… you are allowed.
You are allowed to…
… feel any emotion, in any circumstance.
… rewrite the story- wherever, whenever, whyever you want.
… feel how you feel.
… change how you feel.
… accept how others feel.
… not care how others feel.
… be brave.
… be afraid.
…you’re allowed to be you.
So, last time, we played ‘have to/get to’… this time, let’s take one thing (I was going to say four, but I figured that if you are interested enough to try one, you’ll be fascinated enough to do as many as you like!) that bugs you, something like people not pulling off when the light turns green, something that annoys you every time it happens, but doesn’t happen often enough that you spend a lot of time being annoyed by it, if that makes sense. Read it twice just to make sure you understood that part. Pick one thing like that and figure out where you are now, how you currently feel about it when it happens, and then write the following:
I feel _____ about (the situation), but I am also allowed to feel _____ about it, if I wanted to.
Then, write a version of reality in which it makes logical sense to feel the positive emotion about that situation. A version of reality that can neither be proved nor disproved by your current level of knowlege, and what you can see, touch, taste, smell, and hear right now. I gave an example above, sitting in traffic. I created a version of reality that could be just as real as another, if you allow the initial assumption to be that the circumstances are to your good, not your detriment.
So, your challenge, should you chose to accept, is to choose one inconsequential situation where you tend to get annoyed, and create a version of reality that can’t be disproved by the amount of work you personally are willing to put into disproving it, and write a version of reality in which it is just as plausible that the situation ended up benefiting you as inconvenienced you.
It could be something silly, like being annoyed when you are startled by a pencil lead snapping when you are writing, or that ONE really high-pitched chirp that sometimes wakes you up on those really amazing but I’d rather still be asleep summer mornings… instead of annoyance at how these things inconvenience you- because that story, you already know. We can tell you know it, because you are annoyed.- Tell yourself a new story about the annoyance that turns it into a benefit.
And once you have that story in place, go back to the sentence you started with,
I feel _____ about (the situation), but I am also allowed to feel _____ about it, if I wanted to.
Except, this time, start with the positive version, the positive feeling, and allow yourself the option to feel bad if you want to… and let me know in the comments whether you feel the same level of annoyance with that experience after the exercise as you felt about it before you started, and if not, whether you were left feeling more or less positive about the experience?