One facet of life that is true for every human being is that, regardless of our current circumstances, even when everything is spinning and out of control, we can always choose how we perceive our circumstances.
Our perceptions (or beliefs) about our circumstances shape our feelings, and our feelings affect our behaviors, reactions, and responses to our circumstances. I have a personal exercise that I often engage in, and
I have imparted this exercise to many of my clients. As we continue to face the many changes to our life circumstances due to the Coronavirus, I’d like to share this exercise with you and I think we can all benefit
from practicing this exercise in the coming weeks.
Before I dive into the exercise, let me share one caveat. Emotions are not “good or bad,” “positive or negative,” “right or wrong.” God gifted us with emotions for many incredible purposes:
- connecting with others
- inspiring care for others
- warning us when we are in danger
- alerting us to unjust things
- prompting us to slow down or take action, and many more
Emotions are simply information. When we feel emotions, we should acknowledge the feeling, allow it to exist for a while, and then pair logic with that emotion to determine our next steps. Please do not read this
exercise as a formula for stuffing away or shutting down every uncomfortable feeling.
COVID-19 has brought fear, uncertainty, dread, anger, boredom, loneliness, disappointment, despair, grief, stress, and many other emotions. These are entirely valid emotions when we look at the reality of the current
circumstances in our world. However, living wrapped up in these emotions day by day is not ideal or necessary. Have you noticed that some days, the weight of our current circumstances feels lighter than others? That sometimes,
we’re able to experience gratitude, peace, acceptance, trust, solace, happiness, playfulness, creativity, and joy? I think this massive fluctuation of emotion is common to all of us these days! I also believe that we have more
control over our day to day emotional experience than we may realize. Let’s practice an exercise that will allow us to see exactly where we can exert control in our daily experiences to improve our mood or behavior.
Practicing Perception Correction:
Usually, our emotional state or behavior will serve as an indicator that we need to work on Perception Correction. When you recognize that you’re feeling an emotion that is uncomfortable to you, or you’re behaving in a way
that is out of character for you, pause to consider the emotion or behavior, and then reflect on what thought, perception or belief is fueling them. Ask the Lord and yourself if there is an alternative, more gentle way to
perceive the current circumstance.
I find it helpful to journal this exercise to take the emotions and thoughts that are rattling around in my brain, place them outside of myself, and look at them objectively. So, if you’re open to practicing this exercise
with me, grab a piece of paper and a pen. Here is an illustration of one way that you can set up your page with boxes for each part of the exercise.
Take three deep, long slow breaths. Starting with the top row on the illustration, write down what circumstances or events might be contributing to the emotions or behavior you’ve been experiencing. Next, pause for a moment
and identify 2-3 emotions you have been feeling today related to your chosen event or circumstance. Write them in the emotions box (the third box on the top row in the illustration). Next, consider how your emotions have caused
you to behave. Write those observations in the behavior/reaction box (the fourth box on the top row in the illustration). With all the information you have so far, consider what perceptions or beliefs might fuel these emotions.
(Write these in the second box on the top row of the illustration).
Once you’ve written down your thoughts or beliefs, pause to acknowledge that, while they contain some truth, they are not the entire truth. We can always shift our perceptions to impact our emotional state. Sometimes, we must
change the size of the lens that we’re viewing things through; to expand our field of vision or narrow our field of vision. Maybe we need to ask ourselves, “what else is true?”. We may choose to reflect on a verse from the Bible
or the lyrics of a favorite song that resonates with our soul and reminds us of truth. We may need to reflect on things that we are grateful for; gratitude is a huge perspective shifter. Whatever mode we use to explore our
thoughts, I highly recommend inviting God into the process through prayer. Our Creator loves for us to come to Him with our life experiences. He longs to join us in this walk on Earth. He knows our deepest needs, and he loves
it when we invite him to meet us there.
As you develop some new possible perceptions, thoughts, or beliefs, write them in the first box on the illustration’s second row. Practice reciting those new thoughts to yourself. You’ve been rehearsing the old thoughts for
a while now, so it may take some effort to replace them with the new ideas. Next, consider how holding onto these new thoughts changes your emotions. Write your new set of emotions in the second box on the second row of the
illustration. Finally, write down how this shift in thinking and feeling might impact your behavior or responses to the event (in the third box on the second row of the illustration).
I adapted this exercise from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), a therapeutic approach that we at Christian Family Institute practice often. CBT has proven success in treating a wide array of concerns, including adjustment
disorders, phobias, addictions, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, and relational distress. I believe that you’ll have great success in practicing this exercise yourself. But I also know that
there are times when our thoughts, perceptions, and beliefs are ingrained so deeply in our minds that we absolutely can not see another way to perceive the situation on our own. In these cases, I encourage you to reach out to a
trusted friend or family member, share what you believe to be the truth, how that belief keeps you stuck in uncomfortable emotions and behaviors, and ask your friend to help you see things in a new way. I have a friend I practice
this with often, and I can message her and say, “here is what I’m believing, help me see what’s true.” Sometimes she has a quick, clear response for me, sometimes she does not, but I can always count on her to encourage me and
pray. I also invite you to reach out to us at Christian Family Institute for professional support as you move through those stuck spots. Remember what we always say at CFI, “Everyone encounters problems. Healthy People Seek
Written by Jennifer Giles, M.S. LPC