I used to believe that my mind was always made up and there was nothing I could do about it. That my thoughts worked because they dictated what my actions would be...and sometimes those actions weren't always the greatest or smartest. But that's just how we are, right? My feelings of doubt, anxiety, fear, and anger were valid, so, therefore, it was what it was. At least that's what I used to think.
But what if my thoughts were changeable? What could that look like for me?
Thoughts vs. Feelings
Okay, so it's key to understand that though thoughts and feelings are related, each holds distinct aspects of human experience.
Thoughts are mental processes that involve conscious or unconscious reasoning, planning, analyzing, and problem-solving. They are cognitive processes that can be expressed through language or other forms of communication. Thoughts are often associated with the prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain responsible for executive functions such as decision-making, goal-setting, and attention.
Feelings, on the other hand, are emotional states that arise in response to stimuli such as events, people, or situations. They are subjective experiences that can be positive or negative and can include sensations such as pleasure, joy, sadness, anger, fear, and anxiety. Feelings are often associated with the limbic system, a group of brain structures involved in emotional processing and regulation.
Our thoughts and beliefs influence our emotions and behaviors.
A long time ago, my therapist had a visual graphic on his whiteboard that broke down thoughts, actions, and feelings very similar to the below infographic. I found it to be a valuable tool to check how I process thoughts and feelings as I went through life, so I wanted to share this version with you. See how thoughts can impact both your actions and feelings? There is a lot of power in our thoughts, so all the more reason to learn how to harness how your thoughts determine your next step, so your feelings don't always own your thoughts.
Wait, so is it possible I can alter my feelings by changing my thoughts?
Yes, it is possible to manipulate your feelings by changing your thoughts and self-talk. This is because our thoughts and beliefs influence our emotions and behaviors. When we have negative or unhelpful thoughts, we can feel anxious, stressed, or depressed, and these feelings can lead to negative behaviors or outcomes. On the other hand, when we have positive and constructive thoughts, we can feel more optimistic, motivated, and confident. Changing negative thoughts to positive ones can improve our emotional state and lead to more positive behaviors and outcomes. There is a reason that when we start thinking we'll have a bad day, our feelings shift to that self-talk and can turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Once we have a negative experience and the thoughts of negatively come to the forefront, our feelings often follow suit. We may feel anxious, defeated, or frustrated dealing with a "crappy day." So then, we become wired like that unless we change our self-talk
Self-talk, which is the internal dialogue we have with ourselves, can influence our emotions. When we use positive and encouraging language to ourselves, we can boost our self-esteem and confidence, which can lead to more positive emotions. Reframing and shifting your beliefs and thoughts about an event or situation can effectively alter your feelings. Think of it as an exchange of sorts. "I'm deciding to exchange my negative thought of this being a crappy day to a more positive one. Though I had a rough morning, there's still time to get the most out of today. Some things are beyond my control and I hope the day gets better."
Hoping is a healthy swap for despair and anxiety.
So, if you find yourself struggling with negative emotions, you can try to change your thoughts and self-talk to more positive and constructive ones. This can be done through practices such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, mindfulness meditation, and positive affirmations (and I can help you with the last two). I think you'll find that embracing mindfulness and also learning how to reframe your thoughts and recognize your feelings can lead to a more confident and positive you. This work is the building blocks of emotional intelligence and adopting winning habits.
I wouldn't be me unless I mentioned this very valid point: it is important to know that changing your thoughts and self-talk may not always be enough to overcome serious mental health issues, and it is important to seek out a therapist if you are struggling with persistent negative emotions. Everyone is different and our mental health is never an overnight success. Take your time and get the support you require to be a healthier, better you.