Our thoughts and our feelings seem to work together, one affecting the other. It is sometimes difficult to determine which one comes first…a little like the chicken-or-the-egg. Most often though, our experiences come through our thoughts first, which creates a feeling, and those feelings often create automatic thoughts that can trigger emotions (big shift tied to action) and result in a reaction that can show up in our behavior and beliefs.
It is not that any of these are bad, per say. The issue lies when they are happening automatically without awareness. So to begin the journey of processing and healing, we simply choose to become aware. (State, “I choose to become aware.”)
“Your emotions result entirely from the way you look at things. It is an obvious neurological fact that before you can experience any event, you must process it with your mind and give it meaning. You must understand what is happening to you before you can feel it” (Burns, 1980).
Since our mind (i.e., our thoughts) is what affects how we understand and thus feel, this is where we will start: Becoming aware of our thoughts through mindful observing.
Mindful observing involves focusing our attention and intention. We must choose to become aware of our thoughts. Mindfulness helps us become more aware, intentional and participatory in our own life, and present in each moment. The benefits are profound.
When we begin to become mindful, it is vital that we let go of preconceived notions about self and others and reality. We MUST let go of judgment. Judgment is based on beliefs that have come through our experiences, thoughts, and feelings, and may or may not be coming from truth or from our highest self or source. We simply become an observer—watching without judgment.
When we are able to observe our thoughts without involving ourselves as the thought, then we can see them for what they are, identify them, challenge them, and then change them if needed.
Often times, writing down some of our thoughts helps us look at them more objectively and recognize patterns in our thinking. Keeping a small notebook with you to jot thoughts down as they come up is very helpful.
The next step is to become aware of distorted thinking patterns that have possibly become automatic for us and are affecting our emotions and our actions. Negative thinking can not only keep us stuck, but can also set us on a trajectory that leads us further away from our higher self and our divine purpose.
Here are a few of the distorted thinking patterns that can become automatic and are important to become aware of:
- Filtering: You take the negative details and magnify them while filtering out all the positive aspects of a situation.
- Polarized Thinking: Things are black or white, good or bad. You have to be perfect or you’re a failure. There is no middle ground.
- Overgeneralization: You come to a general conclusion based on a single incident or piece of evidence. If something bad happens once you expect it to happen over and over again.
- Mind Reading: Without their saying so, you know what people are feeling and why they act the way they do. In particular, you are able to divine how people are feeling toward you.
- Catastrophizing: You expect a disaster. You notice or hear about a problem and start “what ifs”: What if a tragedy strikes? What if it happens to you?
- Personalization: Thinking that everything people do or say is some kind of reaction to you. You also compare yourself to others, trying to determine who’s smarter, better looking, etc.
- Control Fallacies: If you feel externally controlled, you see yourself as helpless, a victim of fate. The fallacy of internal control has you responsible for the pain and happiness of everyone around you.
- Fallacy of Fairness: You feel resentful because you think you know what’s fair but other people won’t agree with you.
- Blaming: You hold other people responsible for your pain, or take the other stance and blame yourself for every problem.
- Shoulds: You have a list of ironclad rules about how you and other people should act. People who break the rules anger you and you feel guilty if you violate the rules.
- Emotional Reasoning: You believe that what you feel must be true automatically: If you feel stupid and boring, then you must be stupid and boring. (We will discuss this more in the next post.)
- Fallacy of Change: You expect that other people will change to suit you if you just pressure or cajole them enough. You need to change people because your hopes for happiness seem to depend entirely on them.
- Global labeling: You generalize one or two qualities into a negative global statement.
- Being Right: You are continually on trial to prove that your opinions and actions are correct. Being wrong is unthinkable and you will go to any length to demonstrate your rightness.
- Heaven’s Reward Fallacy: You expect all your sacrifice and self-denial to pay off as if someone were keeping score. You feel bitter when the reward doesn’t come.
The next step after identifying distorted thought patterns is to challenge those thoughts. Challenge your thoughts and distortions and come to your own defense. Offer a rational response that is more in truth to the highest parts of you and are of a positive and higher vibration.
So here are the steps:
- Observe (and record) your thoughts without judgment.
- Become aware of distorted thinking patterns and which ones you most frequently experience.
- Challenge distorted thinking with a rational response based on truth.
(If you would like charts to help with the steps, just email me and I will send them along.)
This process is the beginning of amazing transformation. Here we go!
Burns, D. (1980). Feeling Good. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc.