In the previous lesson I explained what the discomfort is - emotion - and where it comes from, and gave a technique you can use to reduce the perceived severity and urgency of the emotions/feelings that drive your drinking.
In this lesson I'm going to teach how to reduce much of that uncomfortable emotion at the source. This is a complicated subject so consider this just an introduction.
We commonly attribute our emotions to things outside of us, to our circumstances. We say things like she made me mad, the slow internet frustrated me, the state of the world upsets me, my job stresses me out.
However I assert that the majority of our feelings come from our thinking.
Things outside of us - other people, the stuff they say, traffic, the weather, the content of the news - are circumstances. It’s not until we are aware of and think about a circumstance that we can have feelings about it.
Circumstances -> Thoughts -> Emotions
Our thoughts are full of judgement and evaluation that aren’t present in the raw factual circumstances of our lives, and this is what creates emotional experience.
The conventional approach to ‘improving’ our life is to attempt to change the circumstances so we can feel better. Different circumstances can make it easier to think thoughts that generate pleasant and productive emotions. But it’s crucial to realize that what matters is that the thoughts change. And the beautiful thing is that we can change our thinking, without any circumstance having to change.
This is great, because many circumstances are pretty intractable in the short term. Many of us spend most of our marriages trying to get our wives to change, but that rarely happens. Our dysfunctional work environments don’t change quickly, and if we experience the emotion of shame because of our bloated belly, weight loss takes time.
However changing thoughts isn’t always easy. You may derive your sense of self, of identity from your thoughts. I used to. Many of them feel very true and factual. You have tons of evidence as to their truth, and may be surrounded by people who agree with you. However I can share my personal experience that dropping my attachment to my thoughts is the single best thing I’ve ever done, and that my sense of self hasn’t diminished one bit as a result.
Consider this expanded chain of causation:
Circumstances - Thoughts - Emotions - Actions - Results
You’ve already seen how emotions can fuel the action of drinking against your will. Basically all of our actions and inactions are fueled by our actual, anticipated, or desired emotional experience.
And I think it’s self-evident that our actions create our results. When I say results, I’m talking about things like:
- Our 10k time is getting slower or faster.
- Our waistline or bank account is getting bigger or smaller.
- Our relationships are becoming more open, accepting, fun and supportive, or are contracting.
- We are becoming more calm, disciplined and reliable, or more scattered, curmudgeonly, and isolated.
In general I’ve stopped worrying about whether a thought is ‘true’ - rather I evaluate whether a thought is worthy based on how it makes me feel and based on how I act when I think it. In the end, my thoughts create my results, as per that chain above, and I focus on the quality of results I’m creating, rather than on the subjective truth of my thoughts.
Here are some ways to consider your thoughts in order to reduce your attachment to them in order to change them so as to experience less emotional discomfort.
1 - Separate out the raw facts of a situation from your opinions.
Person said some words at a certain volume.
My stock portfolio decreased in value.
The average speed on the highway today was 25 mph.
It’s a crappy day.
My wife yelled at me.
I’m running out of money.
Traffic sucks and people should drive better.
2 - Question the thought. Is it really completely true?
3 - Even if it’s true, does this thought define the situation or person completely? Are there other attributes that are also true but that create a better emotional experience?
4 - How would you feel and act if you were unable to think this thought?
In the beginning of using this process, you usually won't be able to do it in real time. The thoughts happen reflexively, feelings are created, and you're caught up in the drama of the situation. So you start by analyzing situations that already took place, for example a conflict with someone.
This is best done in writing.
- First, identify the facts of the situation. (CIRCUMSTANCES or C)
- Write down the thoughts you may have had. (THOUGHTS or T). Separate out the facts from the thoughts that contain opinion or judgement. Make sure you have a clean Circumstance.
- How did you feel? The answer here will be the one-word description of an emotion - anger, frustration, fear, guilt. You may find yourself wanting to write out a phrase or sentence. Those would be more Thoughts, and are not the correct answer here.
- When you felt that way, how did you act? What do you do? What did you not do?
- What results did you create in your life with those actions?
With this overview of the situation, evaluate whether the Thought you had was effective. Was it true? Are there other ways to think about the situation that would have created different feelings, actions and circumstances?
As you learn how to reverse-engineer your experiences after the fact, you'll eventually be able to manage your thinking in real-time, and hence make a significant change to your emotional experience as you go through life.