This is the third installment in my Back to Basics series, which covers the basic elements of the Coaching Model I use with my clients. The first week covered thoughts, and the second week covered feelings. This week’s installment explains how the two are related.
So, to recap Installments 1 and 2: Now we know that a thought is a sentence in your mind, and a feeling is a sensation in your body.
But how do these two things work together? The answer is simple but profound:
Your thoughts cause your feelings.
This is a causal, chronological process. You have a thought – your brain says a sentence to itself. That thought produces a feeling – a sensation in your body.
All feelings are caused by thoughts. And all thoughts produce a feeling.
Sometimes this process is conscious and you hear the thought go by. Sometimes it’s subconscious, and you don’t even know it’s happening.
Part of the goal of thought work is learning to pay more attention to your thoughts and feelings so that you can raise more and more of your subconscious thoughts to the conscious level. This is important because the conscious level is where you can make a more deliberate decision about whether to believe your thoughts and keep thinking them. As long as they remain subconscious there’s no way to directly work with them, and you’re at the mercy of the feelings they create.
Because here’s the entire point of understanding that thoughts cause feelings: It means you can change your feelings by changing your thoughts.
You cannot directly change a feeling. It’s a sensation in your body and once it’s happening, it’s happening. You can’t directly intervene in it without using a thought. But if you change your thought, you can change your feeling even while it’s happening.
This right here is the secret to life. Here’s why:
We only ever do something or don’t do something because of how we want to feel, or not feel.
Let me say that again.
Anything you want in life? You want it because of the feeling that you think you will have when you get it.
And anything you are afraid of? You’re afraid of it because you’re afraid of the feeling you will have if it happens.
You think you fear the or want the external thing. But that’s only because you don’t know that it’s actually your thoughts about the external thing that would produce the feeling you desire or fear. In other words, the flip side of understanding that your feelings are caused by your thoughts is understanding that your feelings are not caused by external things.
And that’s everything. Because if you can become willing to feel any feeling, and if you know that you can create and navigate your feelings using your thoughts, you don’t have to desperately seek out or try to avoid anything external. Thought work is the practice of taking conscious control of your thoughts, so that you can feel the way you want to more often.
It’s important to note: This does not mean you’ll never have a negative feeling again. That’s not even the goal. Negative feelings like grief, fear and sadness are a part of life. Some of them you may even want to feel on purpose, like grief when a loved one passes. The goal is to (1) understand where they are coming from (your thoughts) and (2) decide if and when you want to change your thoughts to change your feelings.
So this week, give this a whirl. When you’re having a feeling, ask yourself what thought you are thinking that is causing the feeling. You’ll be surprised to discover how often you can identify the thought at issue – and to see how often (hint: always) it’s your own brain and not someone else or some external event that is producing your emotional state. Simply recognizing that you have a choice about how you think and feel is the most empowering gift you can give yourself, even before you start to practice changing it.