Do you sometimes feel anxious or sad or grumpy ‘for no reason’? I am asking you, because at the beginning of our work together, most of my clients say that to me. Then they blame themselves for feeling that way, thinking there must be something wrong with them. When you feel anxious or sad ‘for no reason,’ you feel out of control, because you never know how long the emotion is going to stay or when it is going to come back. It almost feels as if you are a victim of your own feelings.
However, it is never ‘for no reason’ that you feel emotions. The cause of all your emotions are thoughts and beliefs, either conscious or unconscious ones. Beliefs are thoughts you think are true; many of which you are not aware of; that’s when we call them ‘unconscious’. If you feel anxious, you must have been thinking fearful thoughts, even though you may not be aware of them. In general, when you stop and wonder what you were thinking, you will become aware of the thought that caused the emotion. Then you can check to see if your thought is true. If it is not, you may let go of that thought and choose to think differently about the situation.
The Lemon Experience
Let me guide you into an experience to illustrate how this statement ‘your thoughts create your emotions’ works.
Please close your eyes and imagine there is a big fat ripe lemon in front of you. Now imagine you are cutting it into four slices, and bring one slice of the lemon to your mouth. With your whole mouth now, bite into it and let the juice splash into your mouth. How does that feel? Is it sour? Does your face make a grimace? Are you salivating?
Now open your eyes. Where is the lemon? There is no lemon! I just asked you to pretend biting into a lemon, and the physiology of your body faithfully matched your thinking, which gave you an experience of biting into a lemon. But there is no lemon, it was a hoax. The body does not discriminate between what you think is real and what is made up, between good and bad – the brain and body simply and faithfully translate thinking into physiology. That’s it! This illustrates that your thoughts, conscious and unconscious, are creating your experience, minute by minute, and it may have nothing to do with what is really happening.
Even though I have known this for a long time, I still think it is mindboggling. Do you? This is exactly the opposite of how we think life works. We believe that what happens outside of us creates our experience. Someone may say: ‘My life experience made a suspicious guy out of me’; or ‘my past crippled me’; or ‘you are hurting my feelings’; or ‘with such a childhood, I’ll never be able to succeed in life’; or ‘I just caught a virus which made me sick’…but none of this is true. Unconscious beliefs about who we are and how life works made all of these experiences happen. If we want to be free, happy and peaceful, it is really key important to question our beliefs!
Rose tells me how each morning she feels grumpy and has trouble getting up. She has to drag herself out of bed and would prefer to remain there for a few more hours. She concludes from this that she is lazy and then tries to force herself into feeling better. As this does not work, she then beats herself up even more with blaming and self-loathing.
I ask her some questions about her day, in order to find out what thoughts may be causing this grumpiness in the morning.
“When I ride my bike to work, I sometimes think it would be good if I crashed,” she admits.
“What could you avoid if you had an accident?” I ask her.
“I would not have to go to work,” she answers.
“Ah, tell me more about your work,” I say, and she starts crying, admitting for the first time even to herself how much she hates her job, and how she feel obliged to pressure herself into producing the best projects possible.
This is an example of how Rose’s self-loathing resulted from a ‘lemon’, from an untrue belief which she thought was true: The belief that she was lazy. Yet, nothing could be further from the truth. Rose was the opposite of being lazy; she worked harder than anyone else in their office, subjecting herself to perfectionist standards, which then created anxiety and the feelings of being pressured. She felt grumpy because she dreaded to have to work under such conditions. Who would not dread to work under perfectionist standards?
Rose’s story illustrates how we often believe things about ourselves or others, which are not true. Then we create more suffering out of it. Her belief that she was lazy only increased her demands to be even higher performing at her job, which then intensified her struggle and suffering even more.
Once Rose became aware of the lemon, and dared to admit to herself how much she dreaded to go to work, she began to make some changes. She chose to give herself more time in the morning, and to let go of all temptation to work overtime.
Now let’s come back to you: Think of something which has been bothering you lately. Check to see what you are thinking about the situation or the person. Those thoughts are creating how you are feeling. It is not the situation or the person which create your emotions. Can you see this? It is your interpretation, tainted by your beliefs, which creates your experience. Right now could you choose to change your thoughts about the situation and see it differently?