How to Change How You Feel

One of the first steps to mastering your mindset is to understand how your brain processes your thoughts and feelings and how that affects your actions and behaviour.  

I sometimes joke with my clients that I don’t always care about how they “feel” … which is a strange thing for a therapist to say.  However, I make this joke, because what I really care about is how they are thinking, it’s their thoughts that are actually controlling their feelings.  So in order for me to help them change how they are feeling, I need them to understand how they are thinking.

So, if you want to change the way you feel about something you need to learn how to change how you are thinking.  Look at the diagram below, notice that the flow is a downward progression, with feelings in a soft fluffy cloud in the middle.  

We tend to put our focus on how we feelbut that is not where the key to change is located, the way to change how you feel is to adjust your focus to how you are thinking!

Let’s say for example you are feelingsad.  If you adjust your focus off how you are feeling and listen to your thoughts what you will hear are thought fragments of “my life sucks”, “my job sucks”, “I wish I had”, “life is hard”, “I can’t do anything right”.  If you are feelingsad then your actions and behaviour will reflect that.  Your interactions during the day will repressed, heavy, unmotivated and your productivity and motivation will be low. Clearly this will just reinforce your feelings of sadness, and the above cycle will continue in a loop.

Imagine you are sitting at a light on a side street, you look in your rear-view mirror and see an approaching car.  You begin to realize that they are not slowing down, you think “yup, they are not going to stop, they are going to hit me”, followed by the thump of them hitting your bumper.  Now your thoughts will determine what comes next:

Scenario 1:
You Think: 

  • dammit, stupid person, how could they not see the light?
  • Can’t believe how many stupid drivers there are out there
  • Everything bad happens to me
  • Idiot ruined my damn day
  • I’m not paying a cent for this they were clearly wrong, they better be ready to pay!

You Feel:

  • Pissed off, irritated, angry, frustrated

Your Actions are:

  • Get out car slamming the door, stomp over to other driver, present in an angry and aggressive way and in an angry voice state something accusatory and confrontational.
  • Spend the rest of the day telling everyone you meet how stupid drivers are and how you are suffering because of their idiotic driving.  
  • Yup, your day is ruined.

Scenario 2:
You Think: 

  • dammit, this sucks
  • well, at least it happened at slow speed
  • glad I saw it coming and was prepared, that would have been scary if I didn’t
  • I can think of 3 times yesterday alone I was distracted when I was driving, so I know this can happen.
  • If today is day I have a car accident, I will SO take this, glad this happened before I hit the highway.
  • Going to be a pain in my butt to get this fixed but at least I won’t have to pay for it.

You Feel:

  • Irritated, grateful, forgiving, understanding, and calm

Your Actions are:

  • Get out walk over to the other driver, ask them if they are ok.  Exchange insurance information and phone numbers. Calmly and somewhat friendly.
  • Spend the rest of the day telling everyone how you got hit from behind at stop light and how grateful you are that it was only a fender bender.  
  • Rest of your day is fine.

Understanding this loop is the first step in learning how to control your thoughts so you can begin to control how you feel and how you interact in situations and in your life. Once you can recognize this cycle then you want to start using The 5 Thingsto learn how to change how you are thinkingso you can take control of your life!

If you have not already done so check out  5 Magical Things article here:

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Just Drop the Rope

How to Win any Fight….By Dropping the Rope!

Fighting, disagreements and arguments are a part of life.  All of us argue with our spouses, our children, family members, friends and maybe at times co-workers.  However, when you really step back and think about it…what was the point of any of our fights?  Did you ever truly win?  

While not having any scientific proof, I feel pretty certain that never in the history of the world has an argument between two people ever ended with one person saying, “you know I was totally wrong in my thinking and you were totally right in your thinking”. People may winan argument, their opponent may consent or concede to another point of view, but there will always remain a “yeah but” attached to that concession….

When opponents are locked into battle with each other, it’s like a tug-of-war, each trying to pull the other over to their side.  So, the next time you feel that pull, that level of frustration…my suggestion for you is to let go of the rope!  

Let’s take a moment and look at the word definition attached to fighting.

Argue:  give reasons or cite evidence in support of an idea, action or theory typically with the aim of persuading others to share one’s view (on-line dictionary).

Disagreement:  lack of consensus or approval (on-line dictionary).

Fight:  quarrel or argue; endeavor vigorously to win (on-line dictionary).

Yup, this is why it is impossible to ever truly winan argument, because all versions of disagreement require abandoning one’s position and we would not be fighting over something if we truly didn’t believe in it. So, fighting becomes a bit ridiculous when you stop and think about it. 

So, the million-dollar question becomes, how do you navigate the world around you without fighting? When working with couples in therapy I will often introduce the concept of a Fighting Contract for them to use for a short time. If working with an individual, the Fighting Contract concepts can still be used effectively by only one person.

The Fighting Contract, I realize is a bit silly at first, it feels awkward and unnatural, but it does significantly change the entire dynamic of fighting, allowing parties to effectively navigate opposing opinions.  Usually after using the Fighting Contract for a few weeks, couples begin to shift their dialogue avoiding disagreements and reaching consensus quickly.  

When you sit back on your heels and think about disagreements, there really is only 3 options available to either party.  

  1. Party A winsbecause they are more passionate about the topic, it is more important to them, they are most influenced by the consequences of the decision etc.
  2. Party B winsbecause they are more passionate about the topic, it is more important to them, they are most influenced by the consequences of the decision etc.
  3. Party A and B find a middle ground between the two opposing sides whereby each feels their passion, interests and intentions are heard and at least somewhat acknowledged or met. Everyone gets a little bit of what is important to them. 


This is a contract between two or more parties.  It is important that the Fighting Contract is followed exactly as outlined below.

At the point that a discussion has risen to the level that you are not listening, or tempers are rising:

  1. TIME OUT IS CALLED.  Time outs must be timed (a return time is established).  Not another word is spoken by anyone!  If one party feels that they require more time an extension is made.
  2. Each party must find a solitary place in which to do the following steps. During this time, you do not speak to any of your support persons about the fight/disagreement. This is your time to process.
  3. Each party must write out in point form the following:
    1. What is the other person trying to tell me (their point of view)
    1. What am I trying to tell the other person (my point of view)
    1. What are the possible compromises/solutions
  4. At the designated time each party returns with their written notes from above.  Whomever called the time out goes first.
  5. The first person reads aloud their notes from #3 from above.  The other person is not to say a word, but rather they are to write down any comments or points that arise.
  6. After the first person has finished, the other party reads aloud their notes from #3 above and includes after listing possible compromises/solutions any comments or notes that were written down while the first person was speaking.
  7. This continues back and forth until resolution or compromise is reached. If at any point another time out is required, then the process begins again from step #1.

Remember to keep discussion in present tense…do not bring in scorecards, “you always”, “you never”, or referring to past errors or behavior.

When using this technique with your spouse it is important not to cheat by not writing down your points. Many clients come back to therapy stating the Fighting Contract didn’t really work for them.  The first question I ask them is – did you write down your points – consistently the response is no.  Well that’s why it did not work! 

We are not capable of thinking of our partner’s perspective on a deep level, considering our own perspective on a deep level, and trying to create resolution with both these perspectives in mind…while actually listening to our partner – oh yeah and remembering any clarifying statements in response to what they are saying.  That’s why we interrupt, change the flow of discussion and leave our partner feeling unheard and devalued.  You MUST write down the 3 points for at least 10 altercations. After that, I have found that couples have built up enough trust in each other that they are able to use the steps verbally, potential disagreements stay calm and each person feels understood allowing resolutions to be reached quickly. 

If you are attempting to use the fighting contract with someone who has not agreed to participate and therefore doesn’t know the rules, you can still change the direction of the disagreement, keep defenses down and quickly reach resolution by verbally running through steps 3 above.

As a final word, the focus of this exercise is to reach consensus, that is where our focus is, that is how the disagreement will eventually end.  The explanation of each party’s point of view is to ensure that value is placed in understanding the person.  It keeps our defenses down and allows us to…drop the rope!