The way in which we see and interpret our world has a massive impact on how we feel. Emotions do not arise from thin air; the great philosopher Epictetus knew this hundreds of years ago, he held the view that, whilst we cannot always control external events we can learn, through an understanding that trying to control the uncontrollable leads to suffering, and that we need to learn self-discipline to control our reactions to events in a calm, rational way. His work influenced the Cognitive therapy approach where Albert Ellis, an eminent cognitive behavioural therapist, developed his theories based on this idea that negative emotions arise not from events in our lives, but rather from people’s irrational interpretations of the event; crucially that we can learn to challenge our distorted thinking.
For example, if you get up in the morning and think, “I can’t face work; I hate my job and those people just annoy me!”, then the chances are that you are going to dread travelling to work, feel miserable, not enjoy your work and project this feeling out to others in the form of being abrupt or bad tempered and not being easy to work with. It may well be that you dislike your job and want to improve your work situation and in the medium/long-term looking for another job may help but in the short term it will not help your state of mind, including your levels of fulfilment and happiness, to remain stuck in this way of thinking.
Self-awareness is the key to seeing things differently which will impact positively on how you feel and on how you behave. So, in the above example, if you do get up feeling a little negative about your work situation, the most important thing to do is to be aware that you are! Many of us live our lives not being self-aware; we get into negative patterns of behaviour that result in us feeling miserable but not knowing why!
The next step is to be realistic. If it is unlikely that you are able to change your situation immediately, make a conscious effort to disrupt this thinking by making yourself think about some of the positive aspects of your job. There may be some tasks you do really enjoy, some people you do get along with, you might enjoy the breaks; the importance here is to change how you view things so that you can start to feel a little more positive and enjoy your situation more. Who likes feeling miserable?
Try this exercise:
1. Take a piece of brightly coloured paper or a new page in note book or journal and write at the top of the page,
e.g. 10 reasons why I love my job
e.g. 10 reasons why I love my home
e.g. 10 reasons why I love my partner etc.
2. Think carefully and be disciplined – squeeze those ten thoughts out of your head!
3. Every night before you go to sleep take 10 minutes to focus on each of the ten statements and repeat them in your head or out loud, imagine why each of them is true, then do the same in the morning when you wake up
4. Disrupt your thinking again if you find that your mood is lapsing during the day, take your list out and do the 10 minute exercise as a reminder
This exercise is part of the longer-term process of re-programming yourself to think differently in order to change how you feel and experience your life. Learning to be disciplined in your thinking is crucial to feeling better!
- The Wisdom of Epictetus (myblacksweater.com)