Feelings Aren't Facts: 3 Steps to Turn Bad Feelings into a Better Reality
You may have heard it said that “feelings aren’t facts.”
Feelings are our reactions to the reality - to the facts - of what’s happening in and around us.
They often reflect back to us beliefs about ourselves, others, and the world.
So, for example, if we’re feeling like we’re failing in some way in life or work, it doesn’t mean we actually are or that we’re in a fixed state of “failure.”
Though our feelings are not facts, they are important to notice and bring into awareness.
Feelings can show us what we care about, what energizes and inspires us, and what makes us afraid or stressed.
Because they aren’t facts, we can in fact influence our feelings in a way that changes our experience of reality for the better.
Or, for the worse.
Unfortunately, there’s a character that lives in every human brain that can really mess with our feelings, and the thoughts and perceptions behind them. This character is often referred to as the inner critic or the “Judge.”
The Judge presides from our survival brain and can take any “input” and, using limited datapoints, turn it into a negative. Worse, its greatest strength is taking a negative reaction and blowing it up in size.
The Judge makes quick cut and dry declarations that can cause us to go down mental paths that exaggerate the negative; in other words, a path built not on facts but on lies or limited truth.
It operates out of the rigid and binary land of should/shouldn’t, always/never, good/bad, and all or nothing. Turned inward, this can sound like:
I shouldn’t feel this way. I should be grateful. I should just suck it up.
I’ll never make it. I’ll always be this way.
I’m being ridiculous. I’m a mess.
If I’m not succeeding, I’m failing.
The Judge doesn’t stop at judging ourselves and even our feelings as bad in some way, of course. It extends outward to viewing others, situations and circumstances as "bad."
What feelings does the Judge generate?
Guilt, regret, shame, and disappointment.
Anger and anxiety can also be instigated by the Judge.
It’s a good thing these feelings are reactions and not concrete facts!
It’s also a good thing the Judge character isn’t “us.”
The Judge is a reactive function operating out of our survival brain.
While we can thank this brain function for keeping us alive by shooting cortisol and adrenaline into our system when a physical or emotional threat is perceived, we don’t benefit when the Judge is given longer-term power to dictate our thoughts, feelings and actions.
We want the best parts of ourselves to have this power, and the best of us can only be accessed when the Judge is QUIET.
How do we quiet our Judge?
Step #1: Begin to notice when it’s there. The Judge operates in your subconscious, so bringing it into your awareness allows you to act on it.
Can you guess how?
Notice how you’re feeling!
Start by noticing when you’re in a negative space — you may notice it in how you’re feeling in your body or how you're feeling about yourself. Or when you're feeling any of the Judge-generated emotions like disappointment, shame, guilt or regret.
Step #2: Pause and direct your mind into your senses.
Take a few calm, deep breaths -- in, out, in, out. Focus your attention on your breath.
When we calm our body and move our mind's attention away from the Judge, we gain greater access to better parts of ourselves.
Step #3: Put words to how you’re feeling.
It might sound like, “I’m feeling sad and disappointed because I didn’t get the job.” Or, “I’m upset with myself at how I handled that situation.” Or, "I'm frustrated because this is taking longer than I'd expected."
From a calmer, more conscious place, you can consider your feelings and your situation, notice what else is true, and choose what you want to do next.
Our feelings aren't facts, but they do matter. Because they matter, the more we do to bring them to light and allow a calmer big picture to come in, the better our reality will be.
If you’d like to learn more about mental fitness and dive deeper and more quickly into building up your own, I hope you’ll join me in the 6-Week Positive Intelligence Program.