How do my Thoughts Affect my Feelings?
Our world seems to cater to our feelings and emotions. Just take a look at the advertising world; advertisers have long ago realized that if they can get us to feel a certain way then maybe we will act a certain way . . . health ads try to instill fear so that we will stop certain unhealthy behaviors; ads of cute animals in distress try to make us feel pity or empathy so that we will send money to help; humor makes us laugh and keeps that advertisement fresh in our minds, and of course there are a plethora of ads that make us feel that everything will suddenly become right again if we just wear a certain outfit or smear a beauty cream over our face every night.
There is a quote by Shannon Alder that states “Feelings are something you have; not something you are.” Why do we give these feelings so much power? Why do we assume these feelings are true or valid and allow them to make us who we are? And why, when we feel these emotions, do we jump into action instead of taking time to evaluate why we are feeling this emotion? When I was at the dating age, my father used to say, “don’t just choose a spouse with your heart, choose with your mind too.” He was trying to tell me to not just act on my feelings, but think them through, make wise choices.
What causes negative thoughts? When a situation or experience occurs that sparks a negative feeling (called a trigger), this can lead us to create a negative thought based on that trigger. Put a trigger and our negative thought together and we end up with some powerful negative emotions, leading us to act accordingly. For example, a student has a bad grade (this is the trigger), they think “I am so stupid” (this is the negative thought), leading them to feeling discouraged or worthless (the negative emotion). When they have another test, they may have the attitude of “why bother?” and choose not to study (resulting in a negative action).
Sometimes these negative thoughts are not even our own thoughts. We may have heard statements said about us by parents or teachers or peers and chose to believe them as fact. There are many stories of successful people who had an important person in their life tell them that they wouldn’t amount to anything. If they chose to dwell on that thought and accept it as truth, then they would never have become successful. But at some point in their life, they chose to change the thought and create a positive narrative. Growing up as an over-weight child I often heard comments, even by those that loved me, of comments such as “you have such a pretty face”. These words implied a message that if I have a plus-sized body then I could not also be pretty. It took me a long time to recognize that not only is this statement untrue but believing it will result in a lot of unhappy feelings.
How do we change these negative thoughts? When the trigger occurs and you find yourself thinking a negative thought, ask yourself the following questions:
• Is there another way to think about this situation, even if it seems unlikely?
• Are there positive things about this situation or myself that I am overlooking?
• How likely is it that my thought is correct?
• When things like this happened before, what were the reasons?
Practice “What’s the Alternative?” Practice creating an alternative statement to your negative thought. If you invite someone to a party and they say no, instead of assuming that they don’t like you and don’t want to come, ask yourself what the alternative to that thinking is? Maybe they have a really hectic week and need some down-time just as everyone does, or maybe they would have loved to come but already had plans that night. Don’t assume something when you don’t know for sure.
Practice “Where’s the Evidence?” technique:
• What proof do I have that this thought is true?
• Is there any evidence that doesn’t support my negative thought?
• If I’ve had this negative thought before, has it always been accurate?
• Can I be 100% sure that this negative thought is true?
Practice Makes Perfect! Obviously these negative thoughts are going to continue to occur, especially if we’ve had years of creating them. But, as with everything, practice is the key. When you find yourself thinking one of those negative thoughts, replace it with a positive alternative. It’s not a once-and-done technique, we need to keep doing it over and over until it starts to become a habit.
In conclusion: Learning these skills and putting them into practice can be challenging. The Blues Program is one way to help teens, along with peers their own age, learn these techniques and put these skills into practice. Visit bluesprogram.org for more information.