So what we know so far is that in order to feel better and take better action, we need to simply be aware of how our thinking is causing our feelings.
If you think positive thoughts, you’ll feel positive feelings. You’ll then act in a more positive way, and get a more positive result.
If you think negative thoughts, you’ll feel negative, act negatively, and get a more negative result.
It sounds so simple that we have to ask:
What about what’s happening around us?
What about when someone says or does something? Or when something happens? Or I’m in a certain situation? Or anything that occurs in life? Don’t those circumstances create feelings?
No. Circumstances don’t make you feel anything until you have a thought about it.
Three things we must know about circumstances (life):
Circumstances are neutral. Nothing affects us until we interpret it in some way.
Circumstances are fact. If it can’t be proven in a court of law, it’s not a circumstance — it’s a thought.
Circumstances are ultimately outside of our control. The only thing we have control over is how we think & react.
Life is a circumstance. All our suffering stems from us telling stories about our life. But this is all just our thinking. It’s not fact.
In my guide to feelings, I used a simple circumstance — having dinner alone– to illustrate how if our circumstance stayed the same, but if our thinking changes, those thoughts are what cause us to feel good or bad. The fact that we are dining alone has no power over us; it’s our thinking about it that has power over us.
An example of how we affect ourselves in a circumstance :
Three tourists are walking on the beach and feeling at ease.
They walk past a guy covered in tattoos.
One tourist feels nothing and continues to enjoy his vacation. The second tourist feels fear, growing more anxious as he looks around and realizes there are more heavily tattooed people close by, and wants to retreat to the hotel. The third feels fascination and kinship from afar, and the enjoyment of the vacation is heightened.
They are all in the exact same circumstance, but each person experiences completely different emotions.
Here’s why: it’s all in their mind.
The first tourist believes that tattoos are the norm, so no thoughts arose to create any feeling. The second tourist believes that tattoos indicate criminal intent, so began thinking “I must watch out, he is dangerous and could be crazy… oh no there’s a whole gang of them”, and began feeling fear. The third tourist believes that tattoos are beautiful and interesting, and began to think “Wow those are so awesome! This must be a fascinating place”, and thus felt appreciation.
The second and third tourists think that the circumstance — seeing the man with tattoos — is what is causing them to feel the way they do. But he’s just a guy standing there at the beach minding his own business.
It wasn’t until the tourists had a thought about him, that they then felt the way they did. And the first tourist didn’t even feel anything. So if it really were the circumstance causing our feelings, then everyone would feel the same way about it. But that’s never the case.
Circumstances are fact: “Man with tattoos”.
All three tourists would agree that the man does have tattoos. That’s how you know it’s a fact: every single person in the world would agree. You could bring it to court and prove it.
Thoughts are interpretations: “That guy has cool body art, he must be interesting.” “That guy must be screwed up to have done that to himself.” “He’s just a guy with stuff on his skin, who cares?”
The three tourists would disagree on each other’s interpretations. None of their thoughts could be agreed upon by the entire world or proven in court; it’s just individual interpretations.
That’s the thing: We usually don’t realize all our thoughts are interpretations. We think they’re facts.
Tattoos are tattoos. That fact doesn’t affect us until we have a particular thought about them. The first tourist simply saw a fact: A man with tattoos.
If you’re feeling emotion, you know it’s not a fact. It’s thinking, interpretation.
And of course they can’t control what someone looks like. But they can control how they choose to think, feel, and react. They have a choice. We have a choice for every circumstance.
This is the same with everything happening in our life.
It’s all about how we think about our career, our relationships, our belongings, our progress, our life situation.
How are you interpreting it? What’s the story you’re telling yourself about it? What are you making it mean?
“I got fired”, is a circumstance. It could be proven in court. That within itself has no emotional connotation.
Then there are thoughts about the factual circumstance. “I am a jobless loser”, is not a fact. It is a thought. An interpretation. That is what makes you feel a certain way.
“An ex-girlfriend”, is a circumstance.
“I will be single forever”, “I am broken”, “She ruined my life”, are all thoughts.
“An email from my boss”, is a circumstance.
“My boss wrote me a selfish, stupid, condescending email”, is your thoughts.
Can everybody in the entire world agree with your thinking? Can you prove it in court? If not, it’s simply your current interpretation.
And those pesky little thoughts swimming around and around up there…. Is causing you to feel the way you do.
And the best thing is that once we realize that it’s our thinking, not our circumstances that are causing us pain, we realize we have control over what we’re choosing to think and experience.
A circumstance is just a circumstance, until you start thinking something about it. If not, it’s just a thing that’s there.
The tricky thing is that our thoughts seem so factual. But it only seems like fact to us because we have so many other thoughts (that we also believe are fact) backing that thought up. “She ruined my life — see my trashed apartment, my financial ruin, my broken trust… it’s all true!” But you know there’s many growing souls somewhere, thinking: “You have your own apartment? You had your own girlfriend? I have never experienced that! I’d be honored to have had someone get close enough to do that to me. I would’ve felt like I’ve finally leveled-up in life.”
It’s not about the “Truth” so much as realizing that perhaps reality isn’t 100% as you interpret it. There’s many different possibilities. It’s not set in stone. You’re not stuck.
Could you imagine someone else handling your current circumstance better, with more positivity? Out of the 7.5 billion people out there, there could be an endless variety of perspectives and interpretations that feel better than your current interpretation.
You know those miracle stories about people who faced greater tragedy than most, yet still reclaimed peace and are living with more joy than before? It’s not that they’re stronger, smarter, or more prone to happiness than the rest of us — they’ve simply found a way to think differently about their situation. Their new way of thinking caused them to feel good and make the utter most of what they’ve got.
Imagine what they would be thinking. Imagine what they would need to be thinking that would then cause them to feel differently, which would then cause them to act differently and eventually get a different result in life.
We can then adapt those thoughts and practice seeing our circumstances in new ways, so we can feel differently.
And when we realize that we can have better thoughts, which create better feelings, which cause better actions and results…. That’s all we need to know.
And of course we always wonder:
Ok well, what about if the circumstance really, truly seems awful?
Ok let’s go there:
Imagine the worst-case scenario. Jobless, homeless, loveless, family-less, friend-less, incurably ill, disfigured, broke, maimed, blinded, beaten, a certain someone becomes President, the apocalypse is happening, giant centipedes are attacking,…. Go wild.
You experience extreme emotional turmoil for a while. Yes. Understandable.
And now. Look at your thoughts.
It may go something like: “I am worthless. This is horrible. The world is an awful place. What has this all come to? This is the worst thing ever. I can’t believe this is happening to me. I don’t deserve this. This is so unfair. I cannot stand this. This hurts too much.”
Notice that this thinking will perpetuate your awful feelings.
But realize that even the most extreme circumstances have a separation of facts and interpretations.
The would could be ending in a blaze. You have no legs, crawling on your elbows through the barren wasteland as asteroids and locusts streak through the orange sulfuric air [facts], and be in immense emotional suffering, thinking how worthless and ugly and awful and unfair everything is [interpretive thinking].
You see a fellow deformed human beside you, dying an equally painful death, but with a small smile on their face and a faint glimmer of awe in their eyes. “Wow… I can’t believe it happened this way…but this is incredible. This is the end of a great era. And we were a part of it. And maybe there’ll be new life…and if they reach our level of evolution… they will ponder for ages what befell those ancient humans and all the weird technology that are all melted in the muck. But we! We…know. We see. And we’re all part of the great spinning wheel of existence. I never expected everything to fall apart, but what a wonder it is!”
It doesn’t matter whose interpretation is more right or wrong.
What matters it what that person is creating for themselves in those final moments. Suffering and misery and despair? Or suffering and awe and acceptance?
Perhaps that’s a dramatic stretch, but that’s the general idea.
The world could be ending, and how we feel about it and deal with it is entirely determined by what thoughts we’re keeping in our minds.
Can you separate the facts from your thinking?
Can you see how there’s an interpretation, a story, that you’re telling about your life circumstance?
That story is what is causing you to feel & act and create your results.