At the core of this work is accepting that our emotions are wholly created by our thoughts. That whenever we are experiencing any feeling, it is because of the thoughts we are having. So if we find ourselves experiencing an emotion that we don’t want, it is up to us to shift our thinking to generate a new emotion IF we want to be feeling differently about a situation.
Logically, this makes sense to us but in the heat of the moment, it is often incredibly challenging to remove ourselves from the experience and examine our role. I remember one instance many years ago when I was just starting this work. At the time my partner had just moved into my home with his dog and my 2 dogs to create The Brady Bunch of dog families. I had lovingly decorated my home with beautiful blinds and floor-to-ceiling curtains that accentuated the high ceilings and 100-year-old architecture of my home. One morning, I was enjoying a leisurely breakfast and looked over to my white linen curtains and realized that the bottom half of one of the curtains was yellow. I quickly began investigating and realized that my boyfriend’s male dog had been consistently marking this particular curtain in the dining room…and when I say “marking” that is my eloquent attempt to say that the dog had been pissing all over the nice things in my home. I was livid.
Later that day, I was talking to my coach about it and I explained to her how frustrated I was that this dog was ruining all the nice things in my home! She very simply asked me, “Do you want to feel frustrated about this?” Emphatically, my answer was NO.
Then she asked, “So why are you frustrated about it?” Naturally, I once again launched into my rant about the horrible dog destroying the house (because clearly, she wasn’t getting it) and she started to laugh.
She was laughing because it was pretty clear that I believed the dog was what was making me feel terrible rather than my thoughts about this dog peeing in my house. From there I went on to realize that while I can certainly choose frustration about this experience in my life, I didn’t want to be frustrated about it. Truly, I wanted to not be frustrated and show up more proactively in my life. I didn’t want to let this dog get the best of me and cause friction in my relationship. That was the crux of the issue.
If I wanted to not be frustrated about the situation I was going to have to accept the possibility that there was more than one way of thinking about it. It didn’t mean that there wasn’t validity to my thoughts that were making me frustrated but what it meant was that there were also alternative truths about my experience. It meant that I was going to have to gravitate toward another line of thinking that didn’t make me want to scream at the damn dog. I needed to find another “truth” about the situation that I could throw my emotional weight behind.
Having realized that the dog was not, in fact, implanting frustration and anger into me, I took ownership of my role in those feelings. From there I found an alternative truth: I shifted to believing that if this was the worst thing that would happen when cohabitating with my boyfriend, then life was pretty damn good. I also shifted to believing that this was just another obstacle that we are going to have to figure out as a couple. Neither one of those thoughts were pretty or flowery or made the situation OK. Rather, those thoughts allowed me to live in a space other than frustration. They allowed me to see the bigger picture, ditch the anger, and start strategizing. It allowed me to foreclose an angry blowup with my boyfriend and an unnecessary battle with his poor dog.
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That’s really the heart of the work that we do. I could certainly have chosen to live in those thoughts that I felt so strongly about. I could continue to believe that the dog was ruining everything and that he was a horrible monster destroying all of my nice things. But that would have to be my conscious choice. When asked how I wanted to feel about it the situation, I truly didn’t want to feel frustrated. I didn’t want to be happy about it but I didn’t want to live in a dark pit of annoyance and bitterness toward this dog that I actually loved and that was loved by the man that I loved. That meant that if I wanted to feel something other than frustrated, I was going to have to work at it.
When we find ourselves living in frustration over the circumstances of our lives we must take a step back and acknowledge that what is making us frustrated is not the events around us but rather our thinking about them. From there we can truthfully ask and consider do I want to be frustrated and if so I will continue with these thoughts. If not, I am going to have to do the work and find some alternative truths. We must shift from seeing our perspective as the only truth and invest in believing that every situation can have multiple truths available to us.
The next time you find yourself frustrated, consider whether that is your conscious choice or whether there is another way to show up in the situation.