We think mainly in opinions

When you opened the curtains this morning did you think:

‘It’s a lovely day!’ or ‘it’s a miserable day’?

Or did you think:

‘The sun is shining and the sky is blue’ or ‘it is raining and the sky is grey’?

I’m guessing it was something more along the lines of the former than the latter.

 

As we go through our day, most of what we think probably feels factual.

On the whole, people treat most of their thoughts as though they are facts most of the time. Often this isn’t really a problem. After all, life would be pretty dull if we didn’t have opinions and preferences.

 

Sometimes though, it can be useful to check in with your thoughts and notice that many of them are actually opinions rather than facts.

 

Why?

Our thoughts impact on how we feel emotionally, and on how we behave. If you have a negative thought and treat it as though it is a fact, it is likely you will feel an emotion that matches up with that thought and then behave accordingly.

Imaging how you would feel if you had the following thoughts and believed them to be 100% true facts:

‘I’m not good enough’

‘Everyone is laughing at me’

‘I’m socially awkward’

‘I am a disappointment’

‘My work is rubbish’

‘I’m a bad parent’

Then imagine how you would behave if you believed these thoughts to be true.

In actual fact, all of the above statements are opinions. Someone else could take a completely different view and at a different point in time, so could you.

 

Thought experiment…

To get an idea of how many of our thoughts are opinions rather than facts, take a look at the picture below and list all the thoughts that automatically come into your mind about the picture.

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How many adjectives did you use?

How many judgements (positive or negative)?

How many statements of fact did you make?

 

When is a fact not a fact?

For the little experiment above, it was probably pretty clear which thoughts were factual and which were opinions. It can be a little more tricky when we encounter social facts.

Take the example of someone who just won 3m on the lottery.

Most people would think ‘they’re rich!’ and think of that as a fact.

However, those on the Forbes rich list would probably disagree.

 

When it is an opinion, there is an alternative…

To return to our negative thoughts, if we can identify these as opinions rather than facts, this means that there is an alternative. Maybe there is a more helpful alternative.

Sometimes, just acknowledging the thought is not a fact can be enough to change the emotion we feel and what we do as a result.

It also gives us a bit of distance from our thoughts and for those of you who like mindfulness, this is similar to taking an observer perspective as you would in mindfulness practice.

What’s more, re-stating something in a factual way can sometimes help you to gain a more balanced perspective.

Please feel free to leave your opinions in the comments!

You may also like: Stress: Is It All In Your Head?

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Why I Don’t Like the Terms ‘Stressed’ and ‘Depressed’

First of all, I am not denying that many people feel stressed and depressed and I am not suggesting for a second that these terms are not valid descriptions of people’s experience.

I have used them to describe my own emotional experience and within my blogs!

The difficulty I have with the terms ‘stressed’ and ‘depressed’ is that we have come to use these words as a shorthand for too many of our emotions. As a result, I believe we are in danger of losing touch with our emotional vocabulary and with our emotions themselves. 

OK, they are useful umbrella terms in day to day conversation but underneath the ‘stress’ or the ‘depression’, there is likely a myriad of emotions going unrecognised, un-named and unprocessed. 

Whats more, when we overuse terms like ‘depressed’ in day to day conversation to mean sad or fed up, it can diminish the meaning of depression if you are experiencing an episode of clinical depression.

What happens if we lose touch with our emotions?adult-blur-business-986831

It may feel safer or more socially acceptable to tell someone you are feeling stressed or depressed than it is to say you feel:

  • dejected
  • furious
  • terrified
  • despondent
  • lost
  • flat
  • empty, deflated, defeated, bereft, sorrowful, rejected, apprehensive, bored, or have a sense of impending doom.  

But what happens when we only acknowledge the label ‘stressed’ or ‘depressed’ to ourselves?

We could miss the nuance of our experience…

We could avoid acknowledging and feeling emotions that could help us to understand something about ourselves or our situation…

Or we may just feel overwhelmed and confused because we don’t really know how we feel. 

Think for a minute about the difference in how it feels when you think of the word ‘depressed’ in comparison with ‘bereft’.

What do they feel like? Can you tell the difference?

 

When we don’t define the emotion it hinders appropriate action

When we can’t express what we are feeling to ourselves or to others, it could also prevent us from taking appropriate action or having our needs met. 

For example, I have recently noticed that my 6 year old will tell me he is hungry when he is actually bored. 

He is expressing to me that he has a need and he wants his internal state to change but he sometimes mis-labels what he is experiencing.

If he is actually bored but tells me he is hungry, I will give him something to eat but then in 10 minutes he will come back to tell me he is still hungry. 

His true need has not been met. 

If, on the other hand, he can identify and tell me that he is bored, the solution to this problem is different!

We might get out some different toys or activities or go out to play! (He has now started to differentiate between hunger and boredom with a little prompting).

 

Emotions are there to be felt!adult-change-clown-1990

Even the emotions we experience as negative are there to help us make sense of our internal and external world. 

Just identifying our emotions helps us to acknowledge and process them. Being specific about what you are experiencing is far more helpful than using a catch-all term. 

Of course, you may actually feel stressed or depressed, in which case these descriptions are absolutely valid.

But if you find yourself frequently using these words with other people or to yourself, or if you rarely use any other ways to describe your emotions, see if there is anything else hiding beneath them. 

Don’t stop at negative emotions either! Identify your positive emotions too!

Don’t you think elated, ecstatic, overjoyed, victorious, invincible or carefree feel better than ‘good’?

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Have a lovely, emotional day!

Lemon Squeezy makes wellbeing easy! 

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