From the podcast: Align Your Mind Episode 2
It is crucial to then reflect on whether those thoughts are serving you. But how do you know if those thoughts are serving you? That’s what we are going to talk about today. We are going to talk about emotions. Emotions are vibrations in our body that are caused by our thoughts or beliefs.
We create emotions with our thoughts. Let’s create love here for a second. Think about someone you love, can you feel love for them in this moment? What does that person mean to you? How have they impacted your life? It feels great to feel love. Notice how we created an emotion because of our thoughts. That person does not have to be here for us to create love for them. Can they feel that emotion? Nope! Just us, we love them, and we feel that love, because of the thoughts we have about them.
We can’t shoot emotion at someone and make them feel it, we are not carebears. When we love someone, we feel it, not them. We create emotions, they don’t happen to us. We feel emotions from the thoughts we think.
Let’s take a circumstance we’ve probably all been in before:
You texted someone yesterday, and they haven’t responded.
There are a lot of thoughts that could be had about this very neutral circumstance. And depending on our thoughts we could really spiral out of control, thinking they hate us, we must have said something wrong, they’re really rude for having such a poor response time, etc. These sentences in your mind are going to be reflected in your emotions.
If you think that they don’t like you, you’re probably going to be upset or hurt.
If you thought they probably dropped their phone in the toilet again, or just didn’t see it, you may feel indifferent or even forget you texted them all together.
How we feel is dictated by our thoughts and beliefs. Nobody can MAKE us feel anything. If somebody says, for example, that I’m such a freak because I’m so tall, that doesn’t resonate with me, I’m not offended, because I’m 5’2’’ and a half. Or if someone says I’m bad at the flute, I don’t care, because I don’t believe I’m a bad flutist. Now, If I had insecurities around my flute playing I would definitely have a lot of negative thoughts and emotions about that comment.
Nobody can make us feel bad, only we have that power. That is the power of our thoughts and beliefs. The reason we know that circumstances (which are neutral facts) do not dictate our emotions is that everyone reacts to the same circumstances differently.
Siblings react differently to the same set of parents. Everyone thinks differently about the political climate, and therefore feels differently about it as well. There is no “right” way to think, there are only thoughts that make you feel emotions.
I want to take the time to clarify what emotions really are. They’re usually one word:
Feelings can sometimes get confused with thoughts. Say for example you say: I feel like they’re really mean. -- This is a thought, not an emotion.
These 1-word emotions are called FEELINGS because they elicit a physical vibration you can feel. Let’s take embarrassment for example: Think of a time you were embarrassed, recall what that felt like, for me - my face gets really rosy and warm, my chest and shoulders get really tight and I feel a little bit nauseous…
Not all feelings feel good, but they are after all just physical vibrations in the body that mirror our thoughts. Let’s take anxiety for example. This comes up a lot when I coach musicians on performance anxiety. What makes us feel anxious? Our thoughts. What does it mean that we are playing an instrument on a stage? That is all it is. What stakes are we putting on it? What thoughts are we having about it? Usually, it's something like: I can’t mess up, or I hope this goes well.
For me, those are anxiety-ridden and unproductive thoughts. But sometimes they come up. What do we do about it? How do we get around the anxiety??
We just choose to feel it. One of the most common reasons we don’t take action on a long-term goal, or do something we know is good for us, in the long run, is because of how we think we’ll feel and we are unwilling to feel negative emotions. As humans, we want to avoid negative emotions basically at all costs. Remember how our brain is just an organ that wants us to keep hidden in the cave because then we’ll stay with our tribe and not get eaten by bears? The reason our brain is so effective at doing that is that it creates emotions and negative emotions generally feel bad.
So, if we think it is embarrassing to post on social media or start a youtube channel or change careers, we don’t do it. We don’t do it but for no other reason than we don’t want to FEEL embarrassed. But I want to remind you that your thoughts create these feelings.
If you aren’t willing to feel uncomfortable, you probably don’t see a lot of change in your life. If you secretly want to be a youtube star but get anxious when you post, you have a decision. Feel the anxiety and do it, don’t do it, or what so many people do, is numb out in some way. They buffer their feelings, they suppress them.
I used to do this all the time with food, work, school, practicing the flute, constantly listening to podcasts, whatever I could do to not just sit with myself. This is very common. So, the next time you put yourself out there, are you reaching for a way to numb out? Oh, I forgot to mention the biggest source of this: scrolling on social media. We have pocket computers that are so well designed to fill those uncomfortable gaps.
Is there a problem with this? Well, there’s a really easy way to know. Take away the “numbing out” habit. For me, this was my inability to sit with myself. I felt uncomfortable and very resistant to not using my time for “productivity.” I was avoiding feeling anything. I’d get worked up and stressed and I was almost addicted to that work/stress cycle. I’d apply to dozens of auditions and competitions just so every moment I had was full.
So, what’s the alternative to numbing out? Allowing the feeling, choosing to feel the emotion - that vibration in your body to occur. I’ll walk you through how I’ve learned to process emotions. Let’s say I post something online and I have a thought that makes me feel anxious. I could grab some snacks or wine or immediately scroll TikTok. But those are not going to serve my long-term goals of being mentally present and physically healthy, so I just choose to allow the emotion, the physical vibration to wash over me.
When I get anxious I just point out what’s going on as if I had to describe anxiety to an alien who doesn’t know what emotions are:
My arms get tingly, specifically my upper arms. My chest gets tight as does my throat, I feel like jumping out of my skin. And sometimes I feel a little nauseous as well.
When you’re in an emotion: Identify it. Say to yourself “Oh! This is anxiety.” I’m feeling anxious. My chest is tight, I feel like jumping out of my skin and I feel a little sick to my stomach. Identify your physical vibrations. Notice if the physical vibration moves, is it a hard or a soft feeling? Does it stay stuck? Does it have a color? - Become physically present and describe your sensations. Is there water coming out of your eyes?
This is the way I process emotion. And emotions aren’t problems, they only become problems when we try to resist them or aren’t willing to feel them. Do you ever think you shouldn’t be feeling something? Like, I shouldn’t be sad, or I shouldn’t be this nervous? This is the resistance I’m talking about. Allowing emotions and feeling discomfort is the way to accomplishing goals and expanding your life. Being willing to feel uncomfortable for the sake of a larger goal in your life is the key to all of it.
The last time I checked it was normal for humans to have emotions. We are not happy robots. Happiness, sadness, pain, frustration, joy, love, grief - all of it SHOULD be in our experience.
Our ability to process emotions is a skill that isn’t just reserved for the positive. If we aren’t willing to feel the negative emotions, it is much harder to feel the positive ones.
Now, why is this important? Why would it be so crucial to feel these negative emotions?? Why is it important to know how you’re feeling?
Because your feelings drive your actions. Your emotions are the fuel for your actions. Can you take action without feeling motivated or inspired? Of course! However, if we take the same action from a place of shame or guilt, the quality of the action will differ. If we take an action from a place of love or compassion, that will yield a different result. The quality of your action will be different.
Your emotions are the fuel you run on. Your emotion in any given moment shapes your life experience. If you haven’t asked yourself how you FEEL, it’s once again time to put your observer hat on. Observe, how are you feeling right now? Why do you feel that way? - That is how you get to know the thought that is causing your emotion. Why are you feeling this way? And actually, answer - don’t let yourself say “I don’t know…” And if you think that it is being caused by something external ask yourself why that external thing or situation is a problem. If you’re unemployed and you think your unemployed status is the cause for your misery, think again. You probably think that it's embarrassing, or shameful, or that you’ve failed in some way. Those are thoughts you have about your neutral circumstance.
Sometimes we think our circumstances cause our emotions. This is never true. Someone in the same circumstance as you could feel such joy and happiness. They could feel grateful and in love with their life. And you may feel stuck, unhappy, upset, frustrated, etc. All of this is because of the way we think.
Your thoughts matter. And we can’t get hurt without permission from ourselves. One example of an emotion becoming so overwhelming for me was a few years ago, I was struggling a lot with my body image. It got to a point where I would just catch a glance at myself in the mirror and would break down crying. I didn’t think words in my mind, I just had an emotional reaction. I had linked thinness and the way my body looked to my worthiness in the world so deeply that I didn’t have to think words about it, I just cried. It took me asking myself EXACTLY why I was crying to unearth my true opinions. This gave me awareness, my starting point.
If circumstances caused our feelings, everyone who saw my reflection would then also break down crying. Circumstances are never a problem until we have a thought about them.
Once I learned that I create my emotions with my thoughts. I got to take responsibility for making myself cry. I got to take ownership of how I felt, and it was one of the most freeing things to do, because if I’m gonna cry or feel terrible, I can find out why, and reach for a slightly better thought whenever it comes up. I am in control of my emotions. If I believe that other people or circumstances create my emotions, I am at the mercy of other people or situations. I give up my agency.
We can never control all our circumstances and we can absolutely never control other people's thoughts, emotions, or actions. If we believe that we need to change something external to feel better, we lose before we begin.
Let’s take weight loss, for example, I’ll use my own experience. A few years ago I decided to do the Keto diet. I counted calories, grams of carbs, and stuck to a rigid intermittent fasting schedule. The reason for this was so I could like myself more, as a thin person. My motivation was pure - I thought I would feel better if I changed my body (or my current circumstance).
I did this really strict diet for about 8 months. How did I get the motivation? I shamed myself into it. I’d look in the mirror and pick myself apart, I knew that this diet worked, and I mean it did, I lost weight, but my motivation was caused by the shame I felt for looking the way I did.
After I plateaued at a very normal weight (but the thinnest I’d ever been) I thought that my mirror was lying to me. I had a mirror that was pretty cheap and it made me look just a little bit thinner than other mirrors. Why was this a problem? Well, I didn’t have anything to pick apart… I bought a second mirror and not much changed. This was one of the most unhappy places I’ve ever been in my life. Food was all I thought about, I became ravenous for food because as I said, I used it for comfort. It was my enemy and the way I was comforted. I felt depressed and started binge eating. I became disgusted by myself. I shamed myself even more, and would even punish myself sometimes by eating more food…
Why am I telling you all this? Because I was trying to change my circumstance because I thought I’d feel better if I was thin. It turns out the way you get to a goal, is the way you’re going to think when you get there. If you shame yourself into action, shaming yourself is what you practice. I thought I’d feel amazing once I was thin. I felt more miserable than I’d ever felt.
This was concrete proof in my own life, that if I felt bad about something, it isn’t the circumstance that will fix it, it is my thoughts about the circumstance. Now, of course sometimes in our lives are easier than others, but if you give all your power to your circumstances, you’ll never feel satisfied.
If you’re dependent on something or someone external to “make you happy” this is where the slope gets slippery. Emotions are reflections of our thoughts, not our circumstances. Becoming aware of our thoughts is the first step.
Emotions are normal human experiences. They are something we all have in common. They are the fuel to the actions we take or don’t take in our lives. If we are scared to take action on something we’ve always wanted, why are we scared? Because of how we think we’ll feel if we take that action. But when we realize that we get to choose what we want to think, we are limitless.
When I play a recital or have a performance, I choose to think everyone is going to love it because that makes me feel SO excited to play. It is the same as choosing to think that everyone will hate it, but that creates a different emotion. Becoming conscious of how you think and feel is a tool not many people implement. Most people believe all of their thoughts and are therefore experiencing all the drama and emotion. I’m not saying that you can magically root out negative emotions… Not at all. Life is 50/50 - but if we are willing to feel ALL the emotions and take responsibility for choosing the way we feel, so many doors open up to us!