Get Clear on Where You are Struggling
2. My life space: What do I feel in the different areas of my life?
The purpose of this exercise is to help you pinpoint the unwanted emotions and the contexts of your life where you are struggling the most. In order to release our unwanted emotions it is essential that we identify those emotions and also the thought processes and beliefs that sustain those emotions. The result of this simple exercise is that you will become more focused on the issues of your life that require the most attention.
It is important to notice that your ego is invested in disowning responsibility for your emotions and thus you may view “the problem” in your partner or in an unpleasant circumstance of your life. As long as “the problem” remains outside of you, you are destined to be continually upset. When you can re-identify the problem as in your own emotional response to things you then have a foundation from which to create true change in your life. Taking responsibility for your emotions places you in charge of your happiness and is the basis for true communication and effective action.
1. Take an inventory of the most troubling areas of your life
On the “Life Space Map” look over the general contexts or “spaces” of your life. As you reflect on the reality of what is happening in these various areas, simply check the areas that are most troubling for you in one way or another. A “troubling area” is any area where you feel “stuck” or dissatisfied, feel troubling emotions or perhaps want something better for yourself. After checking the troubling areas, then check the more specific areas of concern within the general areas. Once you have identified the troubling areas go ahead and highlight or color in these areas. You will immediately have an overview of the “trouble spots” in your life. Then choose the one area that troubles you the most and then write it at the top of My Negative Thoughts and Emotions List. For other areas, you will want to do a new My Negative Thoughts and Emotions List, but for now just focus on your major area.
2. Identify the emotions that you feel in your most troubling area.
On the My Negative Thoughts and Emotions List, scan the list of emotions that best describe how you feel in your most troubling area. As you reflect on your most troubling area, simply check the emotions that best describe how you feel.
3. Identify the thought processes that sustain the emotions.
Once you have identified the most troubling area and the emotions that you feel, then move over to the next column and check any of the negative thoughts that further describe the emotion. Feel free to journal on the back of the page any other negative thoughts that more closely describe the reality of what you think. There may be thoughts that you think from time to time or there may be more persistent thoughts. Check off any ones that you can relate to. Once you have checked off the thoughts, highlight the ones that appear most persistent, that is, the ones that seem to go “round and round” in a circular fashion.
Your goal in this exercise is to identify as many of the unwanted thoughts and emotions that you feel in your most troubling areas. As you identify these troubling areas, and the emotions contained within them, you will later go back and journal on these feelings and emotions to help in the process of releasing them.
Working with your emotions
The previous part of this exercise helped you to identify the emotions that you are experiencing now in the various contexts of your life. These are some of the emotions that are creating unhappiness for you. We often look at our life situation and assign responsibility for our unhappiness on the external circumstances (e.g. my relationship, my job, my living situation, etc) of our lives. When we view our unhappiness as outside of ourselves we have nothing to do but seek to control or change those circumstances. We say in effect, “If my circumstances were different maybe I could be happy.” This belief leads to a never ending quest to change or control our circumstances in order to be happy.
While there is certainly nothing wrong with seeking to change our circumstances when it would serve us to do so, if we are carrying around negative emotions that we haven’t dealt with, we will likely bring those emotions into the next situation. The result is that we will find ourselves playing out the same emotional drama. My circumstances have changed but I am still struggling with these same emotions! When you can begin to deal with the reality of what you feel and find your own inner resources to transform those feelings into positive ones, then you become in charge of your own happiness not your circumstances.
It is important to recognize that there really is no such thing as a “positive” or a “negative” emotion. Your emotions are your emotions and whatever you feel now in particular areas of your life are probably understandable. It is not that you “shouldn’t” feel what you feel; in fact you “should” feel what you feel because you feel it! The only thing “negative” about any emotion is how long they persist. And persistent emotions create unhappiness in our lives. You want to get to a place where you allow your emotions to flow—to come and go and naturally disappear. What keeps us stuck is our thoughts and our resistance to feeling those emotions.
What would I like to feel in the different areas of my life?
In this part of the exercise you will identify what you would like to feel in these areas. We are not concerned at this point in how you might begin to feel these feelings. The important thing is to consider what you would like to feel. This is a question that we rarely ask ourselves with any specificity because we are so bogged down in our negative emotions. And when we are bogged down in our negative emotions, feeling “positive” is about the last thing we want to consider. In this exercise you will consider some of the positive emotions that you would like to feel in the most troubling areas of your life.
Start with the area where you struggle the most and write it at the top of the My Positive Thoughts and Emotions List. Then simply scan the list of positive emotions and thoughts and check off the ones that inspire you. The result is a direction for your own happiness. For other areas return with a new My Positive Thoughts and Emotions List and go through the emotions for that area.
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Journaling exercises written by Cort Curtis, PhD. Used with permission.