"I feel so bad about my anxiety," a client tells me over the phone. I look outside my office window at a sky that holds an unusual potpourri of weather systems: patches of blue, some white puff-ball clouds directly overhead; far-off slivers of slate hanging over the cascades; and down south a muscly black storm system. The sun shines for moments then disappears; shadows drop like long limbs across Mercer Island and Lake Washington then get broken up by breezy light rays. It all unfolds like a cabaret show dancing across a stage.
"I wish I didn't feel the way I do," my client says. I let a little bit too much space linger in the air because I'm thinking. Oh, that feeling bad about feeling bad--me too. And, I can conjure up a handful of recent conversations about feeling bad about feeling bad. As if we have a secret internal jewelry box that is housing a few snakes, and we've been told it should never contain anything short of diamonds and amber. HOW DID THE FUCKING SNAKES GET IN? And what do we do about these uninvited guests? How do we get the snakes out of the jewelry boxes?
A pig pile of feelings
The trouble with judging and then managing your feelings is the emotional pig pile you create for yourself. You know the "king/queen of the mountain" game we played as kids? Well, to be the king/queen of your own mountain of feelings is like standing on top of a changing weather system. It's energy-draining work to manage and dispatch a storm of emotions. Trying to whip Regret into submission and have peace talk treaties with Frustration is a tail-chasing engagement that shuts you off from the sunlight of your natural spirit and the source of your natural well being.
Because just like the sky and the weather outside, that mountain of emotions you stand on top is constantly changing. The trick is to not hold on so tightly to every single thought and subsequent feeling that comes in.
It's just a thought. It's just a feeling. Neither is necessarily the truth. GASP! WHAT? How can my precious thoughts have no meaning??
A quick aside: I'm mixing metaphors like a maniac here: a blank sky hosting ever-changing weather. A mountain with you, the King or Queen standing on top and trying to whip the thought/feeling pig pile into submission. A jewelry box with precious gems and a few garter snakes.
Whether you see your feelings as a weather system, a pig pile of mischief or a beautiful jewel box, here's the thing: your feelings are created by a thought. And you--we, all of us--have at least 60,000 thoughts A DAY. Most of them are NOT positive. Why? Because our brain is keeping us safe and alert with thoughts that are not exactly on the positive side.
And yes, they're JUST THOUGHTS. And the resulting feelings are JUST FEELINGS. None of us has to make such a big frickin' deal about the thoughts and feelings that we host on a daily basis. I mean--you CAN. But, if like me you have had it up to here with an overactive at-times bad-neighborhood of personal thinking, you can choose to NOT make meaning out of your thoughts, and spend less time managing your feelings.
Don't do anything
When I suggest that the thoughts you have that create the pig pile or weather system or jewel box of feelings isn't something you need to do anything about, here's what I mean: You don't have to define yourself as, say, anxious or angry. You don't have to attach your mind on a thought for the rest of the day, week or month (mine today is "I'm tired"--boring). You don't have to define yourself with any thought or feeling. And you don't have to be a ninja internal diplomat and talk a thought or feeling into going away or hiding behind a bush.
Just let it all be. Let a thought be just one in 60,000. Trust that it will drift away. I'm still playing with this idea myself. I still have my thoughts and feel the bad feelings but I have a different awareness of the thoughts and feelings, and am willing to entertain the idea that with time I'll get better at watching them pass and letting them go. This doesn't mean not feeling, but not making each feeling or thought mean so much.
If I have a bad night's sleep, I don't have to make it mean my day is crap, wasted and a suffer fest.
If I think, "Oh, who do you think you are, you'll never amount to anything," I can smile at the Gollum Girl kicking off a fit and continue on.
If the thought above makes me feel discouraged, I can see it and instead of spending hours or days of energy talking myself into a better mood, I can let it be, write this blog, look at the beautiful trees swaying outside my office, give my husband a kiss and coach my ass off with a smile.
WhenI have a day where I feel a melancholic cloud system moving through; I have a cruel old thought visit or I'm missing the conversations I used to have with my Dad, I do play around with the idea that I can let it pass--that I can TRUST it will pass, and that I can choose to have any g-d thought in the world I want to have--and even no thought.
Who's to stop me? Who's to stop you from thinking an impossibly brilliant, beautiful thought? Whatever thought you have that keeps you from embracing your job and showing up in your career as a leader filled with purpose and a pixie cheerful rally cry of leadership--write them down, cross them out, find a better thought and roll that around on the back of your shoulders for a few days.
The way to stop feeling bad about feeling bad is to not marry yourself to thoughts that kick off feelings that you then wed yourself to for hours and days and week.
We can give birth to any thought or belief we choose. What's yours? Make this the Best Year Ever.
NEW IN 2018: OFFICE HOUR THURSDAYS
I'm having Coaching Office Hours on Thursdays between 3 - 5 p.m., PST. I'll be in my office taking calls via phone or Skype from anyone who wants coaching on an issue related to their working life, career or creative life--especially writing! You can call me or find me on Skype at: 206 406 6196.