I struggled a lot in my late twenties. On the surface I had it pretty good. I was a Creative Director in a big ad agency working on a dream account: Häagen–Dazs ice cream. I didn’t mind bringing “my work” home. (Vanilla Bean was a favorite late night assignment.)
I also had a boyfriend who was very good to me. He knew I loved my morning coffee and so he’d bring me a cup while I was in the shower – slip it right through the shower curtain for me to sip.
I went to see a therapist. Unfortunately I found this therapist to be very nosy. He kept asking me lots of questions about my feelings.
I know that’s what therapists are supposed to do. But at the time I wasn’t used to talking about my feelings, and so his questions felt pushy and invasive.
“How do you feel about your job?” the therapist would ask.
“Well, I think my job is —” I’d begin my response
“How do you feel about your boyfriend?” the therapist would ask.
“Well, I think he’s —- ” I’d begin my response.
Every time I was supposed to talk about what I was feeling, I’d instead talk about what I was thinking.
Sometimes I’d even begin a sentence: “I think that I think—–“
However my rational (non-feeling) brain made a lousy representative for my feelings – because my brain’s main goal was to keep my feelings safely guarded.
It was as if my rational (non-feeling) brain was acting as the bodyguard for my emotions – and wouldn’t allow anybody to get too close – for fear that my feelings would get rattled or hurt.
Or even worse, my brain worried that my feelings would say something seemingly non-rational (according my (non-feeling) brain’s limited belief system).
But my nosy therapist was really insistent on getting past this overprotective bodyguard brain of mine. My nosy therapist very much wanted to hear directly from my feelings.
“I want you to try something new,” my therapist told me one day, “I want you to purposefully begin your sentences with the words ‘I feel’ instead of ‘I think.'”
This request seemed like a simple verbal fix. But I gotta tell you, it was tough at first to do. Starting sentences with “I feel” not only took effort to remember, it also felt uncomfortable to pronounce this new 2-syllable phrase. Plus, it was not only a struggle to say these foreign words “I feel,” it was also tough to finish a sentence which began with these words.
“I feel sentences” are much more wild, untamed, unpredictable. “I feel” sentences sometimes arrive roaring, clawing, pouncing. In contrast “I think” sentences arrive in a harness of rationality and with a leash of practicality.
Over time, with effort, I began saying “I feel” a lot more – then began getting a lot more in touch with long buried feelings.
Quickly I realized that I didn’t feel happy as a Creative Director in advertising. I felt restricted, uncreative, unappreciated, bored, annoyed, exhausted. I felt I wanted to be an author – yet I also felt scared, anxious, hopeful, insecure, confident and passionate.
It was kind of fun discovering new adjectives to express how I felt. A myriad of unexpressed emotions awaited me. I realized I felt: unworthy, panicky, dissatisfied, perturbed, resistant, apprehensive.
Eventually this new word choice led to a new life choice. I felt I should quit my Creative Director job. I felt being an author was my true career path. I even felt this decision deeply in my core.
It was kind of amazing how simply switching up the words “I think” with the words “I feel” could have such a ripple effect into my life.Oh – and I also felt that I was not feeling it for my boyfriend – even with his generous “5 star” coffee shower delivery system.
So I told him how I felt.
He told me he thought differently.
And that was when I first began noticing that other people also have a personal preference for the word “think” instead of “feel.”
I even began purposefully asking friends questions to see if they’d respond with “I think” or “I feel.”
It was fascinating to notice who said what! I’d then talk about this topic of “I think” vs. “I feel” and it would always lead to an interesting conversation!
Now as a turnaround coach, I keep an eye out for this word choice in sessions – especially when a client is asking me my advice. I respond, “What do you feel you should do?” If they begin their answer with “I think” then I make them stop and begin their answer again – this time with the words “I feel.”
When you talk about what’s going on in your world, do you say “I think….” or do you say “I feel”?
I encourage you to start making sure you’re choosing the words “I feel” more often. It’s even a good idea to write these words at the top of a sheet of paper, then let your feelings flow. And of course I’m a huge fan of journaling! It’s why I created my INSTANT HAPPY JOURNAL – which has lots of feelings-prompters to help you get in touch with how you feel – so you can make wiser, more authentic choices!
I not only think this will help you to live more true to yourself, I feel it will make a world of a difference!
Hi I’m Karen Salmansohn, founder of NotSalmon. My mission is to offer you easy-to-understand insights and tools to empower you to bloom into your happiest, highest potential self. I use playful analogies, feisty humor, and stylish graphics to distill big ideas – going as far back as ancient wisdom from Aristotle, Buddhism and Darwin to the latest research studies from Cognitive Therapy, Neuro Linquistic Programming, Neuroscience, Positive Psychology, Quantum Physics, Nutritional Studies – and then some.
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