Wouldn’t it be great if our feelings were like the soldiers on a battlefield?
Soldiers are trained to follow orders and are commanded by a superior. When ordered to do something or go somewhere, the fighting men loyally do as they are directed, even in the face of mortal danger.
Unfortunately for us, our feelings are not like soldiers and cannot be commanded, nor can they be controlled by will-power. We are usually incapable of selecting what feeling we want to experience at any given moment, especially when they are unpleasant ones like anxiety, fear, sadness, or loneliness.
However there is a clever way to change our feelings without trying to forcibly kick out the negative mood. It’s based on what suave lady-killers do every time they meet an attractive woman.
They woo her.
In the same way, positive feelings can be wooed and invited back to the apartment of your mind. The negative feelings might still be there but the new positivity will soon begin to dispel them. The bad vibes will then find themselves with increasingly little room in which to manoeuvre.
Just as night follows day, so too do feelings follow our mental images. What you conjure up in your mind creates a related feeling, whether the thought is realistic or not. Our subconscious minds do not discriminate between an actual event and an imagined event.
So how does one woo a positive feeling?
You can’t buy ‘happiness’ or ‘relaxation’ a drink but you can take them home.
Fill your mind with positive images whenever a negative feeling arises. Rather than trying to focus on the anxiety or the sadness, and trying desperately to get rid of them, direct your attention to images portraying the exact opposite of what you’re feeling.
Think of the little child learning to ride a bicycle. He becomes so focused on avoiding a bench or fire hydrant that he ends up riding right into it in a state of paralysed panic. If he’d kept his focus on the path ahead, he would have been fine.
A similar thing occurs when we keep our mind on the source of our negative feelings. The more we frantically try to drag our worries kicking and screaming out of our consciousness, the more we become preoccupied with the negativity within ourselves.
This causes more worries to materialize and even if we manage to get rid of one bad feeling, more come to take its place. A mental chamber of constant negativity invites the most unfortunate of thoughts.
The more we practice a skill, the better we become at it. Worry is a skill, albeit a detrimental one. Worriers worry because they have become extremely proficient in imagining worse-case scenarios.
The effort of trying to stop worrying can be significant and this leaves people frustrated and in an even bigger state of anxiety and despondency. Tension is present in both the worry itself and all attempts to get rid of the worry. It’s like trying to get a spider off your back if you’re arachnophobic.
As with all habits, worry can be broken. By immediately substituting worrying thoughts with happier thoughts, without trying to force the accompanying negative feelings out of your mind, you can woo positive feelings to cross the threshold.
In the same way as a ship’s bell signals a new duty shift, so too can the appearance of negative thoughts and feelings signal the need to immediately switch to positive mental imagery.
This will in time reduce worry and the feelings that go with it by creating a positive stimulus for practicing ‘non-worry’, which will become instinctive.
Our imaginations are limitless. We also have a vast warehouse of memories we have collected over a lifetime. This gives us innumerable mental images with which to play with when negativity comes knocking.
Just as we select which CD to play when listening to music, we can also choose whether to engage in positive or negative thinking. Changing thoughts is a lot easier than changing feelings.
By choosing more appropriate mental images, you will be wooing more relaxing, happier, healthier and fulfilling feelings to enthusiastically enter your mind. This will increase mental well-being, emotional balance, and even things like productivity and decision making.
Negative feelings will end up slinking silently out of the backdoor.
Deal with feelings the lady-killer way and see your happiness and relaxation levels increase.
Stephen Joseph is the tranquil mind behind Outsmart Anxiety, a website devoted to helping anxiety sufferers find ways to reduce and banish inappropriate fear and panic from their lives.