25 August 2015
The soul becomes dyed with the colour of its thoughts. ~Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
I’ve been writing about the shadowy places of uncomfortable emotions and the value of exploring them to learn about ourselves and grow.
But often when I’m in an unpleasant state of mind it’s simply the result of falling into a bad mood, a mood that’s unproductive for me and annoying to the people around me. This kind of mood is just plain a waste of good life.
As an architectural designer I might have an overdeveloped enthusiasm about tool belts, but I love discovering new tools and tactics that are useful in day-to-day life. I’m delighted by concepts that flip a mental switch and create positive change in how I interact with myself or others.
Achieving and maintaining some traction on living according to our intentions isn’t always easy. I need handy tools. Power tools can be nice. Here’s a concept I’m playing with now that falls into that category.
It’s a model that breaks down the sequencing of thoughts and emotions into a simple series of steps. It goes like this—
- A situation provokes our thoughts.
- Those thoughts generate emotions.
- Our emotions then lead to actions.
- Those actions create the next situation.
- A situation which then provokes new thoughts… and the circle continues.
This sequence occurs constantly, so quickly that it’s difficult to observe. Seeing it here, spelled out in slow motion, sheds light on the circuit itself. It also illuminates a way to short-circuit many of our negative emotions.
We’ve all noticed how the same circumstance can provoke radically different reactions in different people. We’ve experienced how the same event can stimulate different responses in ourselves at different times. Yet, we still tend to think that it is the situation or circumstance that is making us feel a certain way. Actually, as the model clarifies, it’s not the situation that creates our emotions.
It’s our thoughts about that situation that determine how we feel.
What I’m finding is that often my thoughts about a situation can be off-base. Way off-base. I misunderstand. I assume. I feel insecure. The other person communicates only part of the story. Someone’s tired or in a hurry. All of this can prevent clear understandings of the situation.
A good friend can help us unravel a situation by querying us about it. They will show us another perspective, help us fact check our thoughts, offer another interpretation. Maybe help tease out the role historical feelings of inadequacy or disrespect are playing in the current event.
We can help ourselves by noticing our discontent or grumpiness a signal to review our thoughts. Then, instead of acting as if our emotional response is inevitable and beyond our control, we can curate our emotions.
Stopping in this place of witness, we can reconnect with intention. What is our intention? To be helpful? To be supportive? To understand and be understood? To be caring?
Stepping back long enough to find an intention is offering ourselves an emotional path forward that aligns with our values.
Koren Motekaitis introduced me to this concept and has inspired me in many ways. You can find out about her great interview radio show podcast and her work as life coach here.
I believe this thought model version originated here with Brooke Castillo although I’m not familiar with her work.