Thoughtfully Emotional: 3 Ways to Engage with Your Thoughts and Emotions for Positive Personal Growth
The powerful relationship between thoughts and emotions or feelings is not always clearly understood. People often think that the emotions or feelings that they experience are caused by external events, situations, or the actions of others. The truth is, it’s what we think about these things that really determines how we feel. “Cognitive fusion” is the psychological term used to describe the overidentification we have with our thoughts that tricks us into believing that they are facts. Not being present and knowingly connected with our thoughts and subsequent emotional state, can lead to behaviors of suppression or buffering. These behaviors can then lead us to drink more, eat more, spend more, judge or doubt ourselves more, look outside ourselves for how we should be feeling more, etc.
As a trained Martha Beck Institute Life Coach, I was taught the importance of the thought – emotion relationship and it served as the foundation of our coaching framework. When I am working with a client, I utilize a variety of tools and questioning techniques to help them identify and engage with thoughts and feelings to move forward in positive ways. Below are three empowering practices to intentionally connect with your thoughts and emotions and ensuing behaviors:
Understand the Mind-Body ConnectionThe first thing everyone should do is become hyper-tuned in to how their body emotionally reacts to different thoughts and emotions. This can be done using an activity known as the Body Compass. Step one, is to find a quiet place where you can sit comfortably. Step two, think of a time that was very sad and unsettling. Not all-out trauma, but deeply unpleasant. Replay the thoughts and images and relive the feelings and emotions of that time. Then, note where you are feeling it in your body. Is there a tightness? Is there a pain or an ache? Note the feeling. Then on a scale from -10 (highly unpleasant) to +10 (highly pleasant), assign it a scale number (0 = “neutral” on this scale). Step three, think of a time that was incredibly joyful; i.e. deeply pleasant. Replay the thoughts and images and relive the feelings and emotions of that time. Once again, note where in your body you are feeling it. Then assign a number from -10 to +10 for that feeling. You have now “calibrated” your Body Compass. From here on, put it into practice whenever you are having a thought that is causing an unpleasant or pleasant emotional response. Feel into your body and be fully present and connected to the thought, emotion and feeling. Neuroscientist Jill Bolte Taylor in her book, My Stroke of Insight, explains that the electric brain circuitry for a thought, an emotion or an urge lasts only 90 seconds if it’s NOT reinforced, but just watched (2007). Using the Body Compass practice will increase your level of thought and emotion awareness. This will allow for a better sense of control of the behaviors that might result from your thoughts and emotions.
Become the Curious Observer of Your Thoughts:
This practice will help break down the cognitive fusion by helping you: 1. attach to the thought less, 2. believe it less and 3. recognize it is not a fact, but a thought. As stated by Deepak Chopra, “The goal is to be the observer of your thoughts and not let your thoughts control you.” When you feel a thought seeping in, especially one that is going to rate below “0” on your calibrated Body Compass (see practice number 1), do not suppress or ignore it, but NAME it. The following statement said out loud is very helpful for this, “I am having the thought that (insert thought).” For example, a thought that I had to acknowledge and work with so that it would no longer have the power over my feelings and emotions was “my worth is determined by others’ opinion of me.” That thought was very powerful and registered at about a -7 on my Body Compass. I began with, “I am having the thought that my worth is determined by others’ opinion of me.” Saying that statement out loud and naming the thought as only a thought, took away its crushing power. The awareness statement became even more powerful when I said, “I notice I am having the thought that my worth is determined by others’ opinion of me.” Now I was the one in control due to my perceptive noticing!
Compare and Despair:Do you ever scroll through your social media feeds and think your own life does not measure up? It's called “compare and despair syndrome”, and it can cause feelings of anxiety and even depression. The first step to deal with this is to note to yourself, WITHOUT judgement, “I am in the zone of compare and despair”. The next step in the practice requires you to analyze one of the people that you are comparing yourself to – the person that you think you envy. Next, write down all the thoughts you have for why you envy them. You can be as petty as you need. Unleash your “inner brat” – just remember to tell yourself “I am choosing to behave like a brat”. For example, I did this with another established professional coach. Here were some items from my list: they have a better website, they are always creating/posting professional things 24/7, they are always busy, they have a huge following, they are in multiple leadership positions, they are sought after by many people…. The list went on. When I reviewed the list, I started to feel exhausted. “How do they do it?”, I thought, “I don’t ever want to be that busy.” The trick to this exercise when you complete and review the list is to ask yourself, “Can I really have all that?” which most of the time you can answer, “Sure.” The next question to ask is, “Do I really want all of that?”, which in my case I answered, “No thanks. I am happy with what I have got.”
Want a coach to help you lean and successfully utilize these and other thought busting practices so that you can move forward with your dreams and goals?
Contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 970-481-3528
Nikki Stansfield is trained as a professional coach and loves to support anyone who wants to intentionally create something meaningful within their professional lives.