Have you ever heard the saying, “You are what you eat?” I am pretty sure most of us have. What if I suggested, “you are what you think?”
You know, it took me a while to find the therapeutic approach that felt most authentic to me. And then, one day, during a conversation with my clinical supervisor, I was describing different therapeutic approaches along with my growing anxiety about not finding “my approach” as I was nearing my Internship in Marriage & Family Therapy master’s program when she asked, “Well, how do you look at problems? How do you think when trying to solve a problem?”
Suddenly, it clicked! I believe how we think about life, relationships, problems, etc. influences how we feel about them, and our feelings influence how we interact in the world and with others. That is the basic principle of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT); thoughts trigger our feelings or emotions; our emotions influence our actions, and our actions influence our life circumstances or outcomes.
Who knew our thoughts were so powerful?! Let’s put it to the test. Close your eyes. Think of your favorite food. Were you able to do it? I’ll bet you thought of how delicious it is and how it tastes in your mouth and then came the feelings of enjoyment, delight, and satisfaction…or perhaps thinking of it made you feel hunger.
Now, let’s take that same principle and apply it to a life situation. Ready? Let’s say you were invited to a party. You receive your invitation. What is your first thought? For some of us it would be, “Yes. I’m definitely going. This is going to be fun!” That thought will likely result in feelings of excitement, acceptance, happiness, hopefulness, etc. So now that you’re feeling positive, how do you think you will act? You’ll likely go to the party, socialize, laugh, eat and be merry, right? The outcome is that you had a fun filled night and maybe even met someone new; your experience was positive.
On the other hand, some of us will receive the invitation and think, “There is no way I’m going to that party. No one will talk to me and I will not have a good time.” What feelings do you think those thoughts brought to the surface? Likely you feel lonely, sad, upset, hurt, unaccepted, etc. And since our feelings influence our actions, you’ll probably not even attend the party. And there goes a missed opportunity for you to get out, find some enjoyment, treat yourself or meet a like minded individual.
Up for another exercise? What if I told you to get angry? Right now, get angry. Could you do it? Probably not. And if you did, you likely had to THINK of a situation that triggered the feeling of anger. Am I right?
So you see, our thoughts are extremely powerful and ultimately determines our interactions and experiences. Looks like famous French philosopher and mathematician Rene Descartes was right when he said, “I think, therefore I am.”
Will you try something for me? Please! Treat yourself by thinking positive; and remember, if you cannot change your situation, try changing the way you think about it. Be blessed. Be kind.
Referenced & Relevant Reads:
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Made Simple: 10 Strategies to Managing Anxiety, Depression, Anger, Panic, and Worry by Seth J. Gillihan
The CBT Toolbox: A Workbook for Clients and Clinicians by Jeff Riggenbach