It’s easy to get caught up trying to focus on change without doing the inner work. We want the quick fix: tell me what I need to do to get the results I’m looking for.
A lot of coaching is performance-based, which is great for short-term goals and wins. This coaching will often provide you with tools and habits that you can integrate long-term for life changes. However, it’s easy to get the win and then fall back into old habits. This is the difference, in part, between transactional versus transformational coaching.
While the inner work coaching that I do works great for short-term goals and wins, the real benefits are the long term changes that happen as you integrate wisdom into your life.
It’s more than just mindset: do the inner work.
Over a period of days, weeks or months, we can use our willpower and mindset to push down and suppress our feelings and focus our thoughts in one direction. Nonetheless, if we continue to suppress, rather than process, at some stage, this builds up to a level that we no longer can control with mindset and willpower.
It’s not enough to focus our thoughts. At some moment, we face a need to acknowledge and release what we’re feeling. We have to let it go.
Emotions and feelings are similar but different.
Emotions are our subconscious initial response. Scientists have discovered that our emotional response lasts about 90 seconds. Feelings, on the other hand, are recreated by our thoughts, patterns and memories. When you are stuck in a loop, these are feelings: a recreation of that initial emotion that you felt.
“Emotions describe physiological states and are generated subconsciously. Usually, they are autonomous bodily responses to certain external or internal events. By contrast, feelings are subjective experiences of emotions and are driven by conscious thoughts and reflections.”
What Are Emotions and Why Do They Matter?
So, while you have no control over your emotions, it is true that when you control your thoughts, to a large extent, you can control what you feel. You have a modicum of control over this process of re-creation.
And it is these feelings – not your emotions – that impact everything: sleep, relationships, work, and even productivity.
When we repress these feelings, it’s possible to push them down. Nonetheless, we fail to process them, and as a result, they fester within us. With each passing event, we add to the mass of unresolved, unprocessed feelings. Eventually, that can explode into an uncontrolled expression (typically at the worst possible moment).
Which feelings matter?
The feelings that matter are the ones that we keep playing on repeat. They show up in our lives as patterns and addictions. These are the feelings that cloud our reason and impair our ability to choose or to move forward.
These might be your feelings about family and relationships that impact how you interact with others. It’s also feelings of numbness, apathy, despair, desperation, or emotionally disengagement, all of which play a part in feeling aimless. On the other hand, we might feel hysterical, guarded, or distrustful; we can also feel jealous, vengeful, or obsessive.
Some feelings send us spiralling into habits or patterns of sedation and hibernation, or on the other extreme to acting impulsively. Feelings of fear send us into withdrawal and avoidance or fight and flight. Similarly, some feelings cause lethargy and depression or make us feel anxious.
Awareness in our inner work
We use awareness as the first step: notice what patterns repeat that no longer help you grow and move forward. These patterns consist of a mixture of thoughts, feelings and behaviour. They let us know what is out of balance and where to look for answers. Once we acknowledge and process the feelings, we can look at breaking the cycle and pattern, building new habits.
It’s quite possible that, in the past, we built a pattern into our lives because it was useful. But, like many habits, what served us well in one stage of our growth, later becomes the obstacle to new growth!
You probably noticed the pattern first when something spiralled out of control as a result of an explosion of feelings. But ideally, you start to work with mindfulness and awareness to notice the small habitual steps so that you can address your habits before they create a scene. When feelings are less intense, and you have awareness, you can choose how to respond.
Those choices will take into account your feelings while not being driven by your feelings.
How to build awareness:
It’s easy to say “I feel good” or “I feel bad”. But what does that really mean and refer to?
One of the ways we develop awareness is getting more precise with identifying our emotions and feelings. You might use something called an emotion wheel. There are tons of different versions of this, but the purpose is to notice the patterns of what you truly feel with great specificity.
What kind of anger or frustration are you feeling? When you say “I feel bad”, does this mean you feel tired or helpless?
Identifying and naming your feelings allows you to notice your personal patterns of feelings, thoughts and behaviour.
When do I feel this way?
Part of the challenge of doing the inner work is noticing your triggers. What events, people or situations trigger this particular response?
Where do you feel it in your body? If you explore this feeling a little more, is there an “original event” or pattern of events that it leads back to?
When you feel this, how much control do you have over the feeling? Can you make the feeling stronger or smaller? Can you make it more intense or lessen the intensity, like turning a dial?
For example, if you feel despair, could you move it along a continuum to hope and then past hope into desperation? Could you move it back to hope again?
Connecting with our feelings
If our feelings are running amok, unchecked, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by them. Ideally, you want to connect with the feeling without wallowing in it. You want to touch it so that you are experiencing it. Nonetheless, hold it lightly rather than stepping into the centre of the crashing waves.
When you are connecting with the feeling, you choose whether or not to express the feeling. You may choose not to, but this does not mean that you have to suppress or repress it! Instead, the choice is to address the underlying emotional response, the thought patterns you have been repeating, and any behaviours you want to interrupt. You might also look at the meaning that you have been assigning to a feeling or a situation.
Is this true?
The meanings that we assign to situations and patterns are often based on past experiences and perceptions. You have an opportunity to ask yourself, “Is this true?” and perhaps, more importantly, “Is this always true?”. Are there exceptions to this rule that you have concocted in your mind?
When you address the pattern, you create room for transformation and change.
This is why I said at the beginning; it’s more than just mindset. When you do the inner work, you choose to move to a resourceful state of mind and feelings. Choose to interrupt patterns and habits that you have unconsciously played on repeat, perhaps for years.
You are not your feelings.
You might say, I am angry. But the reality is you are feeling angry. You are experiencing the energy and emotion of anger.
Because it is a feeling, it is transient, not a permanent way of being. Feelings come and go; they pass through. You can choose to release them.
While thoughts and feelings are yours, they do not describe you. More importantly, they don’t limit who you can be, become or how you respond.
Despite feelings, you have choices. You can choose to process any emotion, to feel it the whole way through until it dissolves into nothing.
What we resist persists.
So often, however, we choose to resist a feeling. We suppress and repress, making it bigger. And so, it lasts longer.
Unintentionally, we create patterns of thoughts and feelings, repeating them over and over. We create habits with these patterns, which we can break.
I invite you to practice balance.
The inner work challenge: building balance
Somewhere between blind trust and distrust, we find trust. This trust is healthy and wise, neither blind nor cagey. Similarly, we find connecting with others, somewhere in the middle between loneliness and being guarded without feelings. This connection is birthed with healthy thoughts and boundaries; it is safe and provides security and comfort.
Likewise, we might feel indifference or hate, and in the middle, we find feelings of love and compassion.
While we might have emotional blindness on one extreme, and at the other, we find emotional deceit and a fickle, lying heart – in balance, we find emotional truth and wisdom.
The invitation to face the feelings
What would it mean in your life to recognise your emotions and feelings without being overwhelmed? You want to allow them to pass through, process them, and find your way to that point of balance, where you live from a place of healthy feelings and patterns or habits.
Your default and habitual patterns of thoughts and feelings should allow you to move forward in life the way you want to. No longer repressing or suppressing. But choosing whether or not to express. And in every case, to process them.
The mindset that you build around emotions and feelings will help you transform and grow long-term, not just achieve your short-term goals.