When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Most people are familiar with this common phrase and its meaning: when bad or unpleasant things happen in your life, try to make something positive from them.
Good advice, but the actual application of this principle is often a lot more complicated than the process of making lemonade. That being said, it is possible.
Thoughts and Circumstances
The first thing you need to realize is that your thoughts, not your circumstances, are what create your feelings. You don’t feel anything about a circumstance until you have thought about it. Let that sink in. If someone says something to you and you feel bad, the fact that they said something is not what made you feel bad. What makes you feel bad is the thought you have about what they said (or what you’re making it mean). And here’s the thing—if your thoughts are what create your feelings, then that means you have complete control over your feelings. Your feelings and emotions are not subject to circumstance or the actions of other people. You can choose to feel. However, you want to feel about any circumstance. It just takes practice.
Dealing with Negative Emotion
When most people experience a negative emotion, their first reaction is to get rid of it. They resist it and try to numb it with external factors (like overdrinking, overeating, or procrastinating). But this relief is only temporary, and we often find ourselves even further entrenched in the negative emotion after the numbness has worn off. Our resistance to our negative emotions has actually caused more suffering than the emotion itself. This sounds counter-intuitive, but if you want to feel better, the first thing you need to do is stop resisting your negative emotion. Fifty percent of the emotions we feel in life will be negative, so we don’t need to freak out when we experience one. Nothing is wrong; nothing is broken. Just allow yourself to feel it.
Once you’ve stopped resisting your negative emotion, you can start trying to understand it. Get curious about why you’re feeling this way. Figure out what thought is creating this feeling. To help with this, try doing a thought download—write down on a piece of paper all of the sentences running through your head. Don’t filter them, and don’t worry if they don’t make sense. Once these thoughts are out of your head, it will be a lot easier to look at them objectively, and you’ll usually have a pretty good insight into why you’re feeling the way you are.
When people realize that their thoughts are what create their emotions, and more specifically, that their negative thoughts are what’s making them feel so bad, there’s a temptation to beat themselves up. They start feeling bad about feeling bad, which sparks an endless negative cycle. Don’t do this. Look at the thoughts you’ve written down and the feelings you’re experiencing with compassion. You might say to yourself, “Of course I’m feeling this way. Look at all the thoughts I’m having.” Everyone experiences negative emotions. Give yourself permission to experience it as well.
Question Your Thoughts
When you’re aware of your thoughts, and you’ve allowed yourself to look at them with compassion, then you can start questioning them. Look at all the thoughts that are making you
feel so bad, and ask yourself, are these true? Do these thoughts bring me closer or further away from who I want to be? Are these thoughts serving me? Are there other thoughts that are at least as valid as these that feel better? If you can find other thoughts (that are still believable to you) that feel better, practice focusing on those instead of their negative counterparts.
Moving From Negative to Neutral
If you’re really entrenched in negative thinking, it’s usually pretty difficult to switch to a positive thought. If you’re thinking, “I’m an idiot and a terrible person,” it’s probably going to be nearly impossible to immediately jump to, “I’m the smartest and best person in the world.” Remember, thoughts only create feelings if we believe them.
If switching to a positive thought is unrealistic for you, try starting with a more neutral thought. To continue with our previous example, if you’re thinking, “I’m an idiot, and a terrible person,” a more neutral thought might be something like, “I’m a person.” That feels better than, “I’m an idiot and a terrible person.” The key is to find any believable thought that feels better than the current thought. Then once you’ve practiced thinking the neutral thought for a while, you can try switching to something a little more positive. This practice allows you to take baby steps as you go from a negative feeling thought to a positive feeling thought.
Life gives us lemons all the time, and that’s OK. Life was never meant to be happy and easy all the time, but it also doesn’t have to be as hard as we sometimes make it. When we realize that all our feelings are just the products of our thoughts, we get our power back. We realize that, with practice, we can choose and create any emotion we like, and all of a sudden, negative emotions aren’t so scary. We can take the lemons life gives us and make whatever we want with them.
When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Most people are familiar with this common phrase and its meaning: when bad or unpleasant things happen in your life, try to make something positive from them. Good advice, but the actual application of this principle is often a lot more complicated than the process of making lemonade. That being said, it is possible.