Most of us tend to think that something that happens to us—a circumstance—causes the feelings and emotions we the have about it. But, what if it’s simply what we think about the circumstance that creates our feelings? This would be great news because we can think whatever we want about a circumstance—the control is all within our brain.
In last week’s blog, I eluded to a type of journaling that wasn’t about evidence collection, but is strictly for your own mental health. It is a coaching technique called a “thought download”. This is the first step to creating a beautiful life in spite of the myriad of undesirable circumstances you may be experiencing in your divorce.
A thought download is a blank sheet where you just write the sentences that you have running through your mind. Random, unedited thoughts. Kind of a mind dump.
It can be really interesting to look at your thoughts. Each one of these sentences or thoughts is just our interpretation of a circumstance in our lives. You may think each sentence is a fact, but really each one is just a thought about a fact.
Often we believe that our thoughts are actually circumstances. We believe them so firmly and completely that we are convinced that they are facts. Here is how you know if something is a thought or a circumstance: If you can prove it in a court of law, it is a circumstance. If you cannot prove it in court of law, then it really is just a thought!
Here are some thoughts that you may believe are circumstances:
- my thighs are big
- I can’t do math
- my ex is such an a-hole
- I can’t afford to stay in the house
- my kids are suffering
- staying with my ex is bad for the kids
- my lawyer is not on top of things
None of those sentences are circumstances. The circumstances that could have induced these thoughts might look like this:
- my thighs are 24 inches in circumference
- I got 60% on my math exam
- I have an ex-husband
- the house costs $5000 per month to run
- I have 2 kids
- my kids go to my ex-wife every other weekend
- my lawyer is in court and is scheduled to call me back in 2 days
Every circumstance is actually neutral. Every circumstance has no commentary, and no opinion words.
It is our thought about the circumstance that tells us if it is positive or negative. We can actually have a variety of believable thoughts about any one circumstance. For example, my cousin recently got laid off. She thought this was a terrible event and immediately felt worried. I saw it as a great opportunity to be forced out of her comfort zone. Same circumstance, 2 different perspectives. She chose to practise thinking my thought instead of his original thought because it might serve her better. Amazingly, that intentional thought management generated a feeling of empowerment which fuelled productive action.
Every thought will generate an emotion inside of you. The emotion is the feeling or vibration that you feel when you think that thought. The emotion may be positive or negative and it is the variety of these emotions that is just part of the experience of being human. Even though we may be scared of feeling certain emotions – usually the emotions won’t harm us if we allow ourselves to just be present with them.
Certain thoughts (like some of the ones listed above) can create emotions that might make you suffer. Thoughts that induce feelings of anxiety, self pity, or inadequacy are thoughts that make you suffer needlessly. It is pretty easy to get stuck in this cycle during your divorce. To make matters worse, these crappy feelings will not fuel productive action to help your situation legally, professionally or as a parent.
Time to be the boss of your brain and get more intentional with your thoughts! Don’t expect this to come naturally – our brains have years of practice in thinking negative or harmful thoughts that don’t serve us. It will take diligence, focus, and practice. It takes intention.
Circumstance: something that occurred—the facts of it, without commentary or opinion.
Thought: what you think about that circumstance.
Feeling: the emotions you feel when you think this thought.
Action: what your emotion leads you to do.
Result: how things turn out.
Unintentional thought model:
C: The judge gave my ex unsupervised access.
T: This is the worst day of my life.
A: Go home and cry and drink wine in front of my son.
R: My son feels afraid and gets really upset.
Intentional thought model:
C: The judge gave my ex unsupervised access.
T: My son is old enough to have a cell phone and to learn how to use a safe word.
A: Review scenarios for employing the safe word with my son.
R: My son learns boundaries and safety, we are a united team.
Consider trying a week of daily thought downloads. Pick any thought and plug it into the above unintentional thought model. Figure out the circumstance that preceded that thought and complete the model.
Next, take the same circumstance and run another model with a more intentional thought. Make sure you can believe this new thought. See what emotion that thought causes you to feel and then predict what action it might inspire. Is the result better than in the previous model?