An old friend stopped by recently for conversation. She spent the previous two weeks in a sad mood contemplating whether to end a four-year relationship with her fiancé. After hearing her list of grievances, I asked if she still loved him. She did, and then I revealed what her problem was. I said, you think this place is real. Think again.
She was dumbfounded until after we played a game of What If. For example, what if scientists like Tom Campbell, Eben Alexander, and Bruce Greyson are right in saying we live in a virtual reality—a make-believe world created by our consciousness that can survive the death of our bodies? We’re spiritual beings on earth for a human experience. This is soul school.
I suggested that if this is true, her fiancé may be a member of her soul group. He’s playing a role the two of them previously agreed upon so she could learn how to love in this virtual world. The source of her grievances may not be real, but learning opportunities that the two of them decided to make happen just for the experience. She was supposed to discover what she was to learn from this relationship and her fiancé.
After chuckling about these possibilities, my friend felt inspired to examine her negative thinking and salvage a relationship she was about to end. Her sad mood was replaced by enthusiasm in wanting to explore what she was to learn from a man she truly loved and never wanted to leave. Her fiancé did nothing to change her mood. She did it herself by changing her thoughts.
The moods you enter into can last anywhere from a few minutes to weeks. They’re created by the influence of several factors, including your thoughts and emotions (feelings), the environment (weather, lighting, music, people), and your physical state (health, diet, exercise).
As my friend’s story demonstrates, you can change your mood and its duration by changing the influencers. You change yourself, your surroundings, or both. But regardless of what you do, change how you think first. If you don’t, you might later regret making the wrong changes and remain stuck in the mood state you wanted to escape. Here’s why this happens.
Research has found that your thoughts tend to mirror the mood you’re in. So if you’ve entered into a sad mood state, your continuing sad thoughts will create emotions that can perpetuate your sad mood (garbage in/garbage out). Change your moods by changing your thoughts first.
John Kabat Zinn, the founder of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction said this about attempting to improve your situation without changing your thoughts first: “Wherever you go, there you are.” Your thoughts and resulting emotions contribute to shaping your virtual reality. By changing how you think first, you may not need to change anything else. This is precisely what my friend discovered that saved her relationship.
Emotions and moods aren’t dictated by your evolving circumstances. Both are optional. We choose emotions and moods by how we think about our circumstances. You could think of it like this: Thinking releases a chemical we call an emotion. When your body processes that chemical, you experience the feeling. Before this occurs, you have the option not to think, control what you think, and to rethink so as to replace the unwanted feeling with a better one.
By flexing your thoughts, you can cause yourself to feel courageous in frightening situations, confident in uncertain situations, content in dissatisfying situations, and enthusiastic in frustrating situations like my friend.
Realize though, that not all feelings are emotions. You can feel tall or short, fat or thin, rich or poor, strong or weak, sick or well, and satisfied or dissatisfied. But your height, weight, wealth, strength, health, and satisfaction are conditions, not emotions. You can’t change any of these conditions with just your thoughts.
Paying attention to how you feel can help you examine your thoughts and the necessity of changing them. Otherwise, your unwanted feelings can stack up to influence your moods and decisions. But rather than supervising our thoughts, we tend to blame others or our circumstances for how we cause ourselves to feel. That’s simply irresponsible.
Unsupervised thinking can also lead to wild mood swings and erratic behavior. One moment, you’re riding high and the next moment, you’re down and blue. This imbalance occurs when you live in response to circumstances you can’t control. What if, let’s say, you tried living in response to how you think intentionally in a non-negative manner about your circumstances? This is something you control exclusively.
In this virtual world we live in, your circumstances are always secondary or subject to your thoughts about them. Until you think about them and react emotionally, they’re meaningless. You assign the meaning which makes you responsible for the reality your thoughts create. Change your thoughts to shape your most desirable reality.
Jeff Garton is based in Milwaukee and is author of the first book and training resources on the emotion of career contentment and likeability for employment. He is a certified career coach with a background specialized in HR with Kraft Foods and Miller Brewing Co. Twitter@ccgarton.com