by Vinod Balagopal, Social Psychologist and Career Counsellor

When I ask clients to tell me how they feel they frequently tell me what they think instead. So I asked them to poke themselves. Actually physically poke.

Then I ask them: Did you feel that?

Of course they did.

Then I ask them: Can I feel that?  Can anybody else feel that?

Of course they cannot.

In the workplace we each feel lots of things, everyday, all day long. However, who else can feel what we feel? This simple exercise of “poking yourself” brings us back to what we feel. This is known as affect awareness, and it is a way of differentiating feeling and thinking. Let me show you some examples:

“I feel my boss is not treating me right.”

Is that a thought, is that a feeling? It is certainly a thought, but the feeling behind it is unexpressed. Perhaps it is frustration, anger, disappointment, etc. Until that feeling is named and defined, it’s hard to address what is really making us uncomfortable.

“I feel I must stay in this job for the sake of my family”

Feeling or thought? What might the feelings actually be?

“I feel that if I do it this way my boss will see my true worth”

This is another confusion of thought and feeling. Now, we could just substitute “I think” for “I feel”, but thinking isn’t what makes us uncomfortable in the workplace. That would be our feelings, which only we can feel, and we can’t not feel them.

Poke.

Here is another example that is a little different:

“I feel this because…”

When we express how we feel something ‘because of’ something that has happened, we are attempting to give a cause-and-effect rationalization.

We then go into a ‘what if…’ situation and start to imagine what we might feel in a slightly different situation.  However, most feelings are generated on the spot, because information is always changing, just as the person is always changing.

“I feel I need the right career because I need it to last me my lifetime.”

What part was thought, what part was feeling, and what part was rationalized?
Was there any feeling expressed in that statement?

It’s called rationalizing because we attempt to make a cause-and-effect relationship between our feelings and something that has just happened.  Then we try to project our feelings into another future situation. Rationalizing is unhelpful here, as it does not correctly identify the feelings, and feelings are the ones that translate to actions.

Why is it so important that we distinguish thinking from feeling?

This is to get clarity, because the two are very separate things. Mixing them generally creates more stress and does not lead to problem resolution.  If we can’t name the feeling, we can’t address the feeling appropriately.

The “poke yourself” exercise is intended to root us back to the feeling so that we recognize what starts, and what ends, with ourselves.

 

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