Studies show that if you want to achieve goals and obtain mental & emotional well-being you need to focus on your thoughts. When you focus on thoughts, you make high-level changes and align with your goals.
And when you understand how your thoughts affect you, you’ll act with purpose and expedite genuine growth. Things will fall into place, and you’ll make permanent, positive changes.
First, you’ll need a good grasp of what thoughts actually are. Let’s start by talking about why they’re important.
Thoughts Lead to Results
Thoughts determine emotions and influence our behaviors, which lead to results. Imagine a domino effect:
situation > thoughts > label > emotions > decisions > behaviors > results
A situation occurs. We label it using our thought processes, thinking styles and belief systems. This happens so quickly we aren’t even aware of it.
From there we assign an emotion, which then impacts our decisions, behaviors, and ultimately results.
So while different situations may occur, our thoughts are anchored by thought patterns and belief systems. Which may explain why you’re having trouble obtaining a goal after several attempts or why you’re seeing the same poor results despite giving genuine effort.
Thought to Result Example
Situation: After watching the series “Queen’s Gambit” Ava and Anita both want to learn how to play chess. They bring with them their current belief systems and thought processes.
situation > Wants to learn to play chess.
thoughts > Thinks it will be tough, but possible.
label > Labels it as a positive challenge
emotions > Feels excited and optimistic.
decisions > Decides she’s going to learn.
behaviors > Reads books, watches videos, plays on-line.
results > Learns how to play chess and keeps getting better.
situation > Wants to learn to play chess.
thoughts > Thinks it’s impossible.
label > Labels it as a losing battle.
emotions > Feels crushed and hopeless.
decisions > Decides to prove herself right.
behaviors > Skims a book, loses some games on-line.
results > Determines she’s a failure and “proves herself right”.
What are Thoughts?
Thoughts are ideas and associations you make when you analyze flows of information in the environment.
Thinking is the production of thoughts.
There are conscious and unconscious thoughts. You’re aware of conscious thoughts via your inner voice. And you become aware of your unconscious thoughts when you practice mindfulness and analyze thought patterns.
Some psychologists speculate that dreams are also insights into unconscious thinking.
How Thinking Works
You collect millions of pieces of data each second through your nervous system: sights, sounds, touch, taste, etc.
Just by looking at something you collect data and make an association. You analyze it so quickly you don’t even realize it.
You do it without realizing it and without conscious awareness. For instance, you aren’t constantly, consciously aware of how the clothes you’re wearing feel against your skin.
That is until the shoes you’re wearing scrape at the back of your ankles.
It’s happening right now as you’re reading. You may associate the text or color scheme with another website. Or you could see certain words that remind you of something else.
Even the tone you give to the writing is from your personal labeling, since you likely don’t know my voice and can’t have audio-sensory imagery.
We’re biologically equipped for self-preservation and survival. So our instinct is to make sure we are physically safe. We’re unconsciously filtering out data for that purpose.
And a great way to filter out data efficiently is to create patterns, rely on processes, and consult belief systems even though this may not be beneficial to our goals or mental health.
A thought pattern is a mindset that influences our individual thoughts. An example would be a fixed mindset or a growth mindset.
Thought processes are how we interpret and consider data. For instance, comparative thinking is a thought process that may be helpful when we’re learning complex topics.
Beliefs are principles we define ourselves by. Almost like our operating manual. If we believe something is a certain way, we operate as if it’s true and then direct our thoughts to make it true. Think of your results as the destination and your belief systems as the directions.
Example of Processing Thoughts
Ever come home from vacation and realize the smell of your house? A smell you may have noticed before but not very often?
It’s due to a primal instinct. Our nomad ancestors would use their sense of smell to analyze their environment and make sure they’re safe. Is a saber-toothed tiger in the cave?
If we’re constantly in the same environment our brain filters out the smell. Meaning it assessed and labeled the smell of our home as safe. Since we’re safe, there’s no need for conscious awareness of the smell. Our subconscious is aware but we’re not consciously aware.
But if we’re away for a few days, we smell it when we return. This is because our constant association with the smell was broken. We’ll quickly remember it, deem it safe and loose conscious awareness soon after our return.
Thought Filtering and Harmful Thoughts
We filter information based on our current thought processes. Think of our brain like a search engine. And our thought patterns & processes are the search terms.
So if we think something is going to go wrong, then we’ll look for ways for it to go wrong. And if we think things will work out in our favor, we’ll look for ways for it to work out.
This is what law of attraction and “the Secret” gurus are talking about. Except some of those ideologies have been taken over by bad actors who play with people, lie to them and tell them they just need to think something to make it reality.
Filtering is an example of a cognitive distortion. Cognitive distortions are unhelpful thinking styles that lead to depression and anxiety. More about that here.
How to Use Thoughts to Your Advantage
Thoughts determine our mental and emotional well-being. And if we want to achieve personal and professional goals we need to focus on them.
Awareness is the first step. And simply being aware that you have negative thought patterns and processes can help remove some of their power.
You can also build a growth mindset and look for opportunities instead of focusing on roadblocks.
📦 That was a lot to unpack. What do you think? Was the guide helpful? Questions? Please let me know in the comments.
❤️ If you find the information helpful I’d be very happy if you share it with friends and on Facebook, Twitter etc.
Photo by Miguel Á. Padriñán