This is the 4th in a series introducing the concepts of the Model (see photo below) that I use to coach clients. Yesterday’s post dug deep into the concept that it is our thoughts (not our circumstances) that cause our feelings. Today we’re taking a deeper look at the third line of the model “Feelings”.
I often share with clients that everything we do/don’t do is to feel a feeling or avoid feeling a feeling. It’s all about the feelings. Whether it’s avoiding a confrontation or watching a scary movie. We know what feelings we want and don’t want. When we set goals, it’s usually because of how we think we’ll feel when we reach it. We think “there” will somehow feel better than “here.” The reality is, that while some things will feel better “there”, there will have a new set of circumstances, which you’ll have new thoughts about- some negative and some positive. Wherever you go, there will always be a mix of positive and negative emotion.
Life consists of a mixture of 50/50 positive and negative emotion. Negative emotion includes discomfort and pain (both emotional and physical.) This is part of the human experience. Is this by God’s design? You could argue that it’s not. That everything was perfect in Eden until we messed it up, so this is not how it’s “supposed to be”. Or you could argue that God created us with a thinking brain that’s capable of thinking about what we think about, allowing us free will. And because He is all-knowing, He knew there would be “negative” things in the world, but also had a plan to use those things to help shape, grow, and stretch us, and to draw into a loving relationship with Him. Scripture tells us that perseverance leads to maturing in our faith and develops our character. Jesus himself said that we’ll have trouble in this world and we can have peace in Him.
A negative thought will never create a positive feeling, action, or result.This is another rule of the model (and remember, the model just represents how things work in this world). We all know that humiliating a child does not make him motivated to change. But some clients have argued that thinking they’re fat made them go to the gym. I never believe them. When I show them what really happened their eyes are opened. I show them how when they thought “I’m fat”, they felt bad and didn’t like that feeling, so they changed the thought to something more positive (like “I could change it if I started working out though”) and felt motivated (a positive feeling) and went to the gym.
So when Jesus said we’ll have hard times in this world and have peace (a positive feeling), how is that possible? The answer is through our thoughts. Have you ever noticed that when we have discomfort and resist it, we suffer even more? First let’s look at this from a spiritual standpoint. As Christians, when we resist reality (whatever is), our thoughts reflect that “something has gone wrong” and God is not in control of the situation. I used to wrestle with this often (and still do at times because I’m still pretty human) because my thought was “But this isn’t what God wants.” What I temporarily forget in those moments of resistance, is that even if this wasn’t God’s plan, He’s still fully in control and working all things together for good. (I believe in free will, meaning He shows us His way but allows us to decide whether we obey and/or live in Him.)
Now let’s look at it through a neuroscience lens. The primitive part of our brain was created to keep us safe. It’s the part that tells us, “turn back” and “let’s just stay home”. This survival part of the brain is only interested in what it wants right now (survival). Even more important, it does not know the difference between emotional discomfort and physical discomfort. It wants to avoid both! When I use the term “discomfort” I’m referring to a wide range of “negative emotions” from unease to pain. Get an Emotional Workout Imagine a friend telling you they want to buff up & build muscle…without using weights. You’d think they were joking, right? “No-I just really want to skip that part. I hate when my muscles ache and I don’t want to be sore. I just want to be toned.” It would be obvious that your friend’s plan is flawed. Because muscles can’t build without tearing first. It’s literally the healing process that causes them to grow. By avoiding the workout, you inevitably avoid the muscle growth as well.
Mental health works the same way, yet most people avoid feeling discomfort at all costs! We want to feel better by avoiding feeling discomfort. So we “buffer” from negative emotion by distracting, over-eating, over-drinking, binging on Netflix or social media. Anything to avoid “feeling the feels”. (Don’t believe me? Next time you’re waiting in a line, look around. How many people are allowing the discomfort vs. scrolling on their phones?) This is a large portion of the work that I do both as a therapist and life coach. I help people “feel better” by doing two things:
1- Showing them their thoughts (the cause of feelings) 2- Teaching them how to feel discomfort, rather than trying to avoid it.When I catch clients “trying to pull it together” rather than allowing their emotion, I often joke that the work they do with me is like a workout at the gym–the worse they look during, the better they’ll be after. (Ever tried a hard workout while keeping your hair & makeup perfectly done? Yeah-how helpful was that workout?) Application So what’s your workout plan? I’ll give you one that you won’t find on Pinterest. The next time you have a strong emotion and are able to break away and find some privacy, close your eyes and really feel the feeling. Identify the emotion as soon as you’re able. (A feeling/emotion is one word. Any more than that is a thought-not a feeling.) Then allow and take note of the physical sensations in your body that accompany the feeling. For example, when I feel anxious I feel a flutter in my stomach, tightness in my chest and heat in my neck & shoulders. Brain scientist Jill Bolte Taylor says that it takes 90 seconds for the chemicals which cause the physiological sensations of emotion to metabolize out of our body. Just a minute and a half! (Unless we continue the negative thinking, which will continue the cycle.) This takes practice. Just as your physical health doesn’t improve with one trip to the gym, your mental health will also take time to improve. Noticing the difference between how fear and anxiety feel. But also learn the difference between confidence and excitement. All feelings serve a purpose. And recognizing them by the sensations they cause is the first step toward discipline and growth. More on that to come!
In the meantime, if you want help applying this to your own circumstance, or are wrestling with any of the concepts taught so far, I’d love to chat with you!