Have you ever noticed how easy it is to talk yourself into feeling a certain way? Have you ever felt bad about a situation, dreaded something that you don’t want to do, or felt anxious or angry?
I’ve done this many times until I realised that, in most cases, if I turned my negative thoughts into positive ones, then I would feel better about whatever it was and use it as an opportunity to learn and grow.
This process helped me so much that it’s something I regularly encourage my kids to try for themselves and you can read more about it in this post on how to change your thoughts to change your feelings.
How our thoughts affect our feelings
If you are dreading going to work on Monday morning is it because you’ve been saying bad things about it all weekend? About how much you dislike the work because it’s too stressful, too difficult or too mundane, too boring? How you wish you could change your job, find a way to win the lottery so you didn’t have to work, or wonder how other people always seem to enjoy their jobs and be happier for it.
If any of these thoughts strike a chord with you then no wonder you are dreading Monday morning when it comes around.
Instead, what would happen if you made yourself focus and think in a positive way using positive, not negative, words?
How would you feel if you said to yourself that you can’t wait for Monday to show your boss what amazing ideas you’ve had over the weekend. How you are a brilliant manager, co-worker and employee who works hard, gives their all and makes a difference to the company they are working for, no matter what role they’re in. I would imagine that you would anticipate going to work in a very different light!
The way we think about things, the positive or negative spin we put on them in our own minds, has such an impact on how we end up feeling about them. If you dwell on the negative aspects and build these up in your mind then they potentially grow arms and legs and become something real.
Language and the use of negative words such as scared, worried, bored, frustrated, dislike and hate immediately throw up bad feelings that foster resentment and anxiety.
If you try to concentrate on the positive side of whatever it is that is concerning you, using positive and encouraging words then you are more likely to be able to see the good in the situation.
Concentrate on the pros, the strengths of whatever it is. Give yourself a boost of encouragement that, although there may still be a downside, there are also some good things that might come out of it and are worth considering too.
Go back to the example I used at the start of this article. It’s Sunday evening and you are dreading work the next day.
a) Feel it doesn’t stretch you, you’re frustrated, you think your boss takes you for granted because they don’t talk to you much and your colleagues don’t really notice you’re there.
You’re passed by for a promotion, a salary rise, or extra responsibilities so you just remain in the background doing the same job as best you can. You feel worthless, unappreciated, resentful and unmotivated.
Or do you…
b) Know deep down that you do a fantastic job at multi-tasking everything that’s asked of you. You work hard and keep your head down so you don’t get involved in office politics and gossip. You never rock the boat but just steadily and diligently crack on with your to do list, but you know in your heart that you can do more. You have skills, experience and knowledge that isn’t being fully utilised.
But you recognise that it’s only natural to feel frustrated because of this, you know that you’re a hard worker and reliable and are proud of yourself for being like this. You’ve gained lots of experience and knowledge in your current role and it’s given you a good springboard to new and exciting career opportunities.
In this example, I’m trying to illustrate how you can look at the same situation in two different ways.
The first will make you feel down, depressed and resentful because of the negative tone, language and emotions you’ve used to describe your thoughts. Because you’ve thought about this situation in a negative way then this will determine how you feel about it – also in a negative way.
The second approach uses a positive tone, language and emotions that spur you on and encourage you, recognising all that you have to offer. As you are thinking about this situation in a positive light then you are much more likely to feel positive about it. You’re not dreading Monday as much as you were!
With the example we’ve used in this article, you’ll be much more likely to have the awareness, confidence and resilience to either stay put in your job (maybe the hours are good, or the flexibility suits you whilst you have little kids) or decide to go for a promotion, ask for a pay rise, undertake further training or switch jobs.
How you think about things determines how you feel about them
Of course, this doesn’t just apply to grown-ups when they think about work!
It’s a lesson that I have taught my children and I remind them of it whenever they don’t want to go to school, do their homework, are upset about playground squabbles, have problems with their friends and when they argue with each other (they do that alot!).
I ask them to tell me exactly what they’re feeling – is it worried, angry, unsure, upset. Sometimes they need help and I suggest a few describing words and ask them to tell me when I’ve used one that best describes how they feel.
Then I ask them to explain why they feel like that. Again it might need some prompting from me depending on how old the child is and how complex the particular situation is.
You might need to keep asking lots of questions until you can get to the root cause of the issue, rather than just surface deep.
For example, my daughter might say she’s worried about playtime in the school playground.
When I question her further, it’s because she feels she doesn’t have any friends, that no-one wants to play with her, that no-one likes her. So I ask why she feels like that and she says it’s because no-one asked her to join in the group game that her classmates were playing yesterday.
I asked why that happened and she said because she’d left the game herself because it involved running and she’s not a very fast runner.
It took time for me to fully explore all the issues and identify which were the main ones and which were offshoots that, although completely valid and important to her, she’d actually misinterpreted or got slightly out of proportion.
Once we’d broken it down to the key points, I showed her how to turn her negative feelings around into positive ones so that she could feel better about the situation and herself.
Between us we worked out that she did have lots of friends because she was actually playing with them and it was her choice to the leave the game.
We identified that although she was upset she wasn’t a fast runner, she’s very good at other things and we can’t all be brilliant at everything.
We worked out that if she just did her best at running, and still joined in but not worried about whether she was fast or slow, she might have actually enjoyed herself and got carried away in the moment.
Instead of getting upset and sitting on her own because she didn’t want to join in, maybe she could have participated in a different way, be a referee, or a cheerleader from the sidelines.
We talked about the fact that it could be a lesson learnt for the future. If ever she saw a friend of hers in the same situation then she would know how it felt and she could do something about it – go over to the friend, ask her to join back in, explain it doesn’t matter if she can’t run fast but that it’s about joining in and just having fun.
I explained to my daughter that how she thought about the situation determined how she felt about it. She’d actually made herself more upset than she could have been.
Teach your children to look at the positives and this is a life-long skill that will be invaluable for their future.
This approach applies to so many situations in life, big and small, important and trivial. The mind is a wonderful thing and it holds enormous power over us if we let it.
Learn to focus your mind on the positives of any situation (I appreciate that this is sometimes more difficult and elusive than others) and you can influence your emotions.
Positive emotions help us deal with any situation, give us strength, resilience, encouragement and hope so that we can turn almost any challenge into an opportunity for growth and learning.
Learn to change your mindset
Learning to change your thoughts to change your feelings isn’t going to become second nature straightaway. It requires a shift in mindset and practice, especially when your initial shotgun reactions to negative situations are usually so strong.
Try these things to see if they help you shift your mindset in a general sense and make you more receptive to seeing things in a positive light:
- Practice meditation and mindfulness so you can learn to tap into and direct your thoughts
- Have fun as part of your daily life – allow yourself some free time, to unwind and put your problems to the side for a bit
- Write a diary – get your thoughts out of your head where they go round and round and instead put them down on paper where you can see what’s in front of you and work out a way to deal with them
- Make use of your support network – a friend, family member or your partner, someone you trust, who knows you and who you can throw around ideas with
I don’t think you should ever be afraid to let your children see you upset or even cry. It teaches them that crying is ok, a normal human emotion and there’s no need to hide it.
When faced with a worry or difficult situation, teach your children how to change their thoughts to change their feelings and you’ve given them tools for when the next challenge or problem hits.
Whenever you are faced with a situation that you feel is difficult, uncomfortable or negative, take a long hard look at how you are thinking about it and see if you can change your thoughts to change your feelings.
Please let me know if this works for you!