Have you ever wondered why people react differently to the same situation ? Why do some of us face everyday problems with a more positive attitude and others seem to have the world fall apart?

Imagine two co-workers who have to do a last-minute project in a one-week period. One of them, thinks endlessly: “Wow, I only have 7 days to do it! I’m not going to be able to finish it, with the things I have to do!” The second one, on the other hand, says: “It’s a good thing I have a whole week ahead of me, so I’m going to plan the week to get better organized.

How is everyone going to react? Are they going to experience the same emotion? Actually, no. The first person’s emotional response to that rumination of thought will be an anxiety response, to the assumed idea that “he’s only seven days old” and the fact that “everything is coming at him. On the other hand, the second will experience an emotion of calm, before the perception that he has “a whole week” and “has time to get organized”.

How is it possible for everyone to react differently to the same situation? The answer is in the glasses from which each one sees his reality .

It all depends on perspective: the glasses with which we see reality

Although it may seem difficult to believe, the way we feel about certain situations does not depend on the nature of the event that occurs . When any event happens to us, the emotion that we experience depends on the interpretation that each person makes of the situation. Depending on the interpretation we give, this will trigger us to feel a certain way and, therefore, that our behaviour tends towards one direction or another.

Under this premise we then come to the conclusion that in our brain there is no direct reaction between situation and emotion, but that something very powerful intervenes that makes us feel in one way or another: thought.

Situation – Thought – Emotion – Behavior

If their situation is the same, why do they have different emotions? The fact is quite clear: our thoughts determine our emotions . What is important is not “what happens to us”, but what we think at every moment. The thought is previous to the emotion and that thought is what makes us feel better or worse.

How can we then control our emotions? What can we do to change the way we feel? The answer lies in learning to change the way we interpret events, that is, to modify the internal discourse we have with ourselves.

Ask yourself the following questions: “what I’m thinking, is it really like that,” “would everyone understand it the same way,” “what would the person I admire most think of that same situation,” “and my best friend?

What really marks a vital change in our life is when we move from reaction to action , when we really understand that what we feel depends, to a great extent, on what we think in each moment, and not on what happens to us. It is then that we assume that, thanks to our thinking, we can control and provoke our emotions. We can be happy or unhappy, putting our brain for us or, on the contrary, against us.

But now let’s go a little further than we feel and move to the next level: our behavior. Which one is going to have a better performance when working on the project? It’s highly probable that the second one.

The first response is anxiety and, as we know, anxiety blocks us, and leads us to enter a vicious circle of negative thoughts that even sometimes prevents us from action. The emotion of calm experienced by the second, on perceiving that he has a whole week to work, is more adaptive, which will help him to face the project more effectively .

Therefore, our thoughts will not only determine how we feel, but also how we behave in the situations of our life .

Changing our perspective

An effective method of questioning our own thoughts is Socratic dialogue. Let’s continue with the previous example of the first guy: “Wow, I only have a week to do it! I won’t be able to finish it, with the things I have to do!”

  • Scientific evidence (what evidence is there that I won’t be able to do it in a week?).
  • The probability of it being true (what are the chances of it being true?).
  • Its usefulness (what is the use of thinking about it? what emotions do they generate in me?).
  • Gravity (what’s the worst thing that could happen if I really don’t have time?)

Therefore, we have to learn to identify our negative emotions when they actually appear , so that when we notice that alarm signal, we stop for a moment and look for the thought that has led us to feel that certain way and, then, look for a more adaptive thinking alternative. This is not an easy task, since we are very deeply rooted in our belief system and it requires practice and effort to modify it.

The lesson we must learn then is… let us not suffer needlessly! We have the ability to turn our unpleasant emotions (such as anger or sadness)…into more pleasant emotions (joy) and, as a consequence, have more adaptive behavior. The key is to change the glasses through which we see reality.