How you navigate through life and how you feel largely depends on your thoughts. Your thoughts are immensely powerful. They determine how you feel, your decisions and your actions – every part of your life that you can control. Your thoughts are one of the most powerful tools you will ever have in changing your life. Let me explain why.
The Cognitive Behavioural Therapy model is one of the most important models in Psychology. This model states that events lead to thoughts, thoughts lead to feelings, feelings lead to behaviour and behaviour always has a consequence. It is not the events themselves that determine how you feel and behave. It is your thoughts about these events that trigger the sequence of feelings, behaviours and consequences. As with every model, this model is a simplification of a complex and dynamic reality. However, it is very useful in understanding how the mind works.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Model
As an example, let’s say you are lying in bed and you hear a loud bang. This is an event. If you then think to yourself ‘it is a burglar’ you probably feel scared. Your personality and past experiences will determine your actions, but let’s say you ‘freeze’. You are feel scared and are hide under the blankets – a likely consequence of this is that it will take you a long time to fall asleep and you will feel tired the next day.
Event: Lying in bed and hearing a loud bang
Thought: It is a burglar
Consequences: Taking a long time to fall asleep and feeling tired the next day.
Let’s take that same scenario, you are lying in bed and you hear a loud bang. Then you think to yourself ‘it’s just the neighbour’s cat’. This could lead to several different feelings but let’s say you feel relieved. The behaviour that follows will depend on your personality and past experiences with the neighbour’s cat but let’s say you decide to stay in bed and go to sleep. The consequence would be that you have a good night’s sleep and feel rested the next day.
Event: Lying in bed and hearing a loud bang.
Thought: It is just the neighbor’s cat.
Behaviour: Relax and fall asleep
Consequences: Having a good night’s sleep and feeling rested the next day.
So with this one scenario, you can have two completely different outcomes! The outcome does not depend on the event but on your thoughts about the event. In the first scenario the unsafe brain is activated because our mind perceives a threat when thinking the sound is made by a burglar. This perceived threat activates the stress response and in this situation the triggered emotion is fear. In the second scenario, the exact same event has a very different outcome. The thought about the event is a non-threatening, non-judgmental one, therefore it activates the safe brain. This leads to feeling relieved, relaxed and having a good night’s sleep.
It is not the event, but your thoughts about the event, that trigger the chain reaction of feelings, actions and consequences. It is your interpretation, i.e. what you think is going on, that activates either the safe or the unsafe brain.
Control your thoughts – control your life
There will always be events and circumstances in your life that you cannot control. But if you learn to control your thoughts, your mood and behaviour no longer depend on circumstances but on you. When you regain control over your thoughts, you regain control over your feelings and actions. Your thoughts shape your reality more than anything else. Therefore, not having control over your thoughts equals not having control over your life.
Through practicing Mindfulness you will become more aware of your thoughts and regain control over them. By practicing kind and non-judgmental thinking, you are preventing the activation of the unsafe brain and you are regaining control over your feelings and behaviour. This will put you back in control and allow you to reshape your life in any way that you want.