Balancing Thoughts and Feelings

“I believe that everything happens for a reason. People change so that you can learn to let go, things go wrong so that you appreciate them when they're right, you believe lies so you eventually learn to trust no one but yourself, and sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together.”

Marilyn Monroe

Balancing thoughts and feelings is all about taking the weight off distressing thoughts so they can be more manageable. It's quite common for people struggling with emotions to feel quite literally like they are suffocating underneath a feeling. They might even feel as though they are that feeling and nothing else, and might not see an end in sign. With balancing your thoughts and feelings you first look at coping thoughts to take the edge off intense emotions.

Look at the list below and take a mental note of each coping thought. Write the ones you like on a piece of paper to keep near your working space or bedside. This way you can refer back to them when needed.


"Life is a constant ebb and flow."

"I've gotten over worst experiences than this."

"Everyone gets misunderstood sometimes."

"It is okay to be sensitive."

"So what?"

"My feelings are waves that come and go."

This situation won't last forever."

"Mistakes happen; nobody's perfect."

"Everyone goes through this."

"Everybody deals with this."

"This feeling is normal."

"This too shall pass."

"This pain won't last forever."

"It's okay to be different."

"I am strong and I can deal with this."

"I'll survive this situation no matter how awful I feel now."

"I'm not in danger right now."

"I'm allowed to take all the time I need now to regroup and relax."

"This is an opportunity for me to learn how to cope with this kind of fallout."

"I can think of different thoughts if I want to."

"This sucks but it's temporary."

"The emotions are painful but I can still deal with them and the situation."

"My thoughts don't control my life; I do."

The second step to balancing your thoughts and emotions is to look at the bigger picture. Many times we feel strong emotions because we are have thought filters. We have a blindspot to the bigger picture and so this creates intense emotions. Monica, for example, has just been ignored by her crush for the 100th time. She suffers greatly feeling hopeless. He will never text me back. I'm unloveable. These thoughts come to mind. Think of a situation right now that upsets you. Maybe it's feeling generally misunderstood, maybe it's feeling like you don't matter to family, or that you may never rise above a current situation. But looking at the bigger picture might make you feel differently or at least ease the pain. Take Monica's situation for example and see how you'd answer the questions yourself.

Monica's Big Picture Log

1) What happened?

I text that guy I liked again and he ignored me again. I knew he was going to.

2) As a result, what did you think and feel? (Be as detailed as possible)

  • Thoughts: I have to be stupid because I never get the point and can't accept he doesn't like me. My life is one big waste of time.

  • Feelings: I felt a tightness in my chest and pain in my stomach. I felt hopeless and stupid and wanted to hang my head in shame.

3) What evidence supports how you're thinking and feeling?

I tried as hard as possible to be a good person to this guy but he doesn't even want to talk as a friend. He ignores me.

4) What evidence contradicts how you're feeling and thinking?

Well, I know I am a good person because I do care about others and I can't be too stupid because I am a nurse. I am hopeless, but I guess I can be hopeful because this could be just an era in my life. I have been happier than this before.

5) Considering all evidence, what's the more accurate and fair way to think and feel about this situation?

This person doesn't like me but it doesn't mean I won't find someone that does or that I won't be able to move on and accept this.

6) What can you do to cope with this situation in a healthier way?

I can keep going over my coping thoughts, listen to music I like, talk to friends, use mindful breathing, progress on a project.

You can find a big picture log worksheet in Fileshare called: Balancing Thoughts and Feelings: Big Picture Log

Radical Acceptance

Finally, we've reached radical acceptance, the cherry on top for balancing your thoughts and feelings. Thinking in ways that neutralize or contradict your thoughts does wonders for relieving painful emotions, but something that is even more freeing is called radical acceptance. You may have heard of it before and it might not necessarily be the easiest thing in the world, in fact, it can be very hard. In Shai Tubali's book Unlocking the 7 Secret Powers of the Heart, he claims: "Your mind can never allow self-acceptance since it is by nature self-contradictory and divisive. In fact, thinking is wholly based on a duality that prevents you from ever relaxing into yourself.” But accomplishing radical acceptance towards situations in your life is possible, and this includes self-acceptance. It takes practice but it is worth it for its unique rewards. To achieve radical acceptance let's first look at barriers to this zen-like state of mind.


Shoulds: A lot of people are surprised to learn that difficult emotions such as anger and sadness are a result of entitlement. While it doesn't mean they are bad people, thinking in shoulds such as I SHOULD HAVE, I SHOULD GET, or this SHOULD HAPPEN, will only leave you upset. Even this SHOULD NOT have happened is to be noted as problem arousing. Remember that while you can't always decide what will happen in your life, you always get to decide what you're tolerant about. Shoulds prevents tolerance.

Pushing away thoughts and feelings entirely: It's okay to distract yourself and use mindfulness and breathing exercises when you are in distress. But sometimes people are so afraid of feeling emotional pain that they deny any truth in hurtful experiences and refuse to process the emotions. This only prolongs the pain and can keep you stuck.

Black and white thinking: This is when people think in extremes. They either are over something completely unless they feel they can have it go their way. It's like the child quitting the game of tag when they become "it." To achieve radical acceptance you need to be willing to see the grey areas; that circumstances go up and down, become pleasant and then unpleasant, but you can still accept them. This goes for situations like moving on from a person even if there is a renewed feeling of hope. You can still experience the feeling without disrupting your resolve to move on. Feelings are always going to change but it doesn't mean we should put caution to the wind.

Storybook thinking: Wouldn't be nice if we all had everything we ever wanted at the end of our life or at the age we expect we would? Unfortunately, life is unpredictable. What we get is not always what we want and things don't always end all wrapped up in a bow. To achieve radical acceptance we have to accept the hardships of life and ourselves fully, even if we are not the ideal characters we had in our minds. We have to accept that even when we try our best things don't always pan out.

Denying the good in our lives: Lots of people face difficulty accepting hardships because they refuse to see take the positives. If you work with the positives in your life rather than focusing on the negatives then you are more likely to make the best out of any circumstance. A prisoner in a jail cell, for example, might choose to end his life or he might be thankful that he gets a meal even if it's not the best. That he has other people to share in the feeling of being held captive with. Maybe he is not as free as other people in society. But he might choose his break between chores to read as he is at least free to do that at that time.

Comparing yourself to others: It's normal to think, "what about me?" But in life things are not always fair. Some seem to have everything while others don't even get to eat. Some of us have a hard time keeping relationships while others excel in this regard. To achieve radical acceptance you have to be willing to accept all the ways in which you are different from your neighbors and your peers. You need to be okay with your lacks, no matter what they are, and be shameless, too!

“There is no greater suffering than constantly measuring yourself and coming up short, except perhaps the realization that your suffering is hurting others. But where do we learn these things? Because, really, they are learned. We don’t come crying out of the womb because of our birth weight or because we have no money in this brand new world. We learn to measure and we learn to attach our self-worth to those measurements.” ― Vironika Tugaleva

Strong desires: Buddha was thought to have no desire. In fact, it is a common belief that to be a buddha you will have to be lust, greed, and want free. Doesn't that all sound peaceful? No desire at all. Nothing to disturb you. Desires, after all, are what causes most sufferings. But desires are what pushes us. In many ways, they are what keeps us alive. The desire to take care of helpless children is sometimes what keeps even depressed single mothers going. You can even say Buddha's desire was to have no desire or was to reach the ultimate freed state of consciousness that many Buddhists today work towards and hope to have in their next lives. The problem with desires is when they are entertained too often and with some of them being out of our control. Luckily, with a little bit of time and patience, you can learn to pinpoint the desires that hurt you and the ones that work for you. This is up to you to figure out.

Unwillingness to keep still/just be: Tara describes it perfectly in her book: “Learning to pause is the first step in the practice of Radical Acceptance. A pause is a suspension of activity, a time of temporary disengagement when we are no longer moving toward any goal. . . . The pause can occur in the midst of almost any activity and can last for an instant, for hours or for seasons of our life. . . . We may pause in the midst of meditation to let go of thoughts and reawaken our attention to the breath. We may pause by stepping out of daily life to go on a retreat or to spend time in nature or to take a sabbatical. . . . You might try it now: Stop reading and sit there, doing "nothing," and simply notice what you are experiencing.”

― Tara Brach, Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha

Finally, there is living in the past or future, which is one of the biggest barriers to radical acceptance: It's very tempting to go back in time when we are missing someone or a certain kind of life, even a pet. But thoughts about the past are typically unimportant or hurtful distractions. It's also easy to fantasize about the future but if we aren't careful we can become a dreamer instead of a doer. Living in the present is important for progress. Try to always catch yourself when you are in the past or future and bring yourself back to now.


Finally, there are substitutes to the barriers we create that block ourselves from radical acceptance. For some of us, part of this means getting off certain social media platforms for one. The following is a list of all the thoughts you can implement to be a more grateful guest in your own life. Remember these work best if you are willing to get rid of the barriers discussed earlier.

  • Pain is not wrong.

  • My life is like a breath. I cannot plan the ones I'll take tomorrow, and just like each moment, I can only take a single breath at a time.

  • All the wonderful things in my life include: (here list all the positive things you have in your life. They could even be your limbs because though this is typical not everyone has limbs. It could be your mind, even if you don't like the way you think because there are people in vegetated states that could only dream to be fully operational like you are.)

  • "A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory." -- Leonard Nimoy

  • “Pain is not wrong. Reacting to pain as wrong initiates the trance of unworthiness. The moment we believe something is wrong, our world shrinks and we lose ourselves in the effort to combat the pain.” ― Tara Brach, Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha

  • “Imperfection is not our personal problem - it is a natural part of existing.” ― Tara Brach, Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha

  • “The boundary to what we can accept is the boundary to our freedom.”― Tara Brach, Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha

  • “Observing desire without acting on it enlarges our freedom to choose how we live.” ― Tara Brach, Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha

  • I am not wrong and my pain and thoughts are not wrong, because I and my experiences are made under the same universe as everyone else's.

  • When thoughts and memories take you hostage, even through the pain you can keep moving forward.

  • We've learned to measure our worth up against others, but we can unlearn them by consciously focusing on our own paths.

  • It's more important to accept myself than to improve. "No amount of self-improvement can make up for any lack of self-acceptance." -- Robert Holden.

  • “When we accept ourselves for what we are, we decrease our hunger for power or the acceptance of others because our self-intimacy reinforces our inner sense of security. We are no longer preoccupied with being powerful or popular. We no longer fear criticism because we accept the reality of our human limitations. Once integrated, we are less often plagued with the desire to please others because simply being true to ourselves brings lasting peace. We are grateful for life and we deeply appreciate and love ourselves.” – Brennan Manning

  • “You’re already stuck with yourself for a lifetime. Why not improve this relationship?” ― Vironika Tugaleva, The Art of Talking to Yourself

  • “You work so hard to fix yourself, but maybe what you need isn’t another tactic, another book, another expert, another five-step plan. Maybe, you don’t need to be fixed. Maybe, what’s really holding you back is the idea that you need to be fixed. Maybe you just need to let yourself play instead of always making yourself do homework.”― Vironika Tugaleva

  • “What self-acceptance does is open up more possibilities of succeeding because you aren’t fighting yourself along the way.” ― Shannon Ables