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The Positive Approach - Lesson 8

Thought - Feeling - Action

By Peter Shepherd

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There is a simple model that I find useful to understand how the mind works. Briefly stated, it is our beliefs and considerations that drive emotions and resulting behavior. The thoughts that go through our mind in particular difficult circumstances may trigger an unpleasant or self-defeating emotional reaction, resulting in behavior that is not in one's best interest.

These thoughts derive from times when they seemed like the best solution to trying circumstances, and they may be an agreement with a dominant, authoritative or persuasive force, or derive from the conclusion to an episode in our life of success or failure. If the original circumstances were unpleasant and become painful to think about, the accompanying thoughts, decisions and purposes become suppressed too, but continue to operate subconsciously.

When brought to light, it is apparent that the thoughts are affecting current life unnecessarily. The over-generalization, exaggeration, negativity, false assumption or intolerance frequently does not stand up to rational inspection. In personal development we can learn to become aware of these thoughts and to examine them objectively. We can be more conscious of the present moment, and so act (rather than react) in a way that is more emotionally intelligent.

To "be in the moment" means to observe consciously right now, rather than being stuck in our thoughts, that are linked to time: past memories and future expectations.

The route to the beliefs is to recognize the situation or circumstance that triggers unwanted feelings and subsequent behavior, then see what the underlying thoughts are that drive that reaction. Most often these are fleeting and subconscious, since they are associated with painful experiences or because they have long been installed in the mind as seemingly safe solutions to the situations of life and have therefore become taken for granted - 'built in' as part of one's identity. Normally you can't see what you are being.

Finding the underlying thought pattern is therefore crucial to resolving our problematic reactions, and when it is seen in the light of an objective view this is a great relief, because the decision - and the beliefs surrounding it - can normally be changed quite readily.

The way it works is this: As a result of an experience, a person makes a decision or intention for the future, such as "men are selfish bastards, I can't trust them" that becomes part of their belief system. Because the experience was painful it is suppressed, along with the accompanying decision, but both remain in the mind and continue to have influence. When the past experience is re-stimulated by similar circumstances in the present, the old decision is utilized. The tape replays subconsciously. The decision may have seemed relevant and appropriate to the original circumstances but it is probably not appropriate now - it is therefore irrational and somewhat stupid, i.e. it may contain an assumption or generalization that causes intolerance or negativity.

The current situation is interpreted according to these old beliefs and fixed ideas - we hold onto them because they we feel they serve us - and so the person creates unpleasant emotions (sadness, fear, antagonism, anger, etc), which then drive him or her to behave in an inappropriate and self-defeating way; rather than the appropriate and self-empowering way that a rational and objective interpretation would encourage.

You are not responsible for everything that happens to you (although often you may contribute to it.) But you are responsible for how you react to these events, how you experience them and move on from there. Your reaction has three facets:

  • A mental reaction, how you interpret the situation, which is often a replay of old stuff you've attached to as part of your identity.
  • An emotional reaction that results from your interpretation, so you feel happy, angry, sad, or frustrated.
  • And a behavioral reaction: based on your feelings you act in a certain way, such as jumping for joy, getting away as soon as possible, or punching the other guy's nose.

It might seem that the circumstances caused your emotional reaction, or even that it caused your behavior. So, if your girlfriend criticizes your manners, you might get angry and leave the restaurant. Later, you may feel that your girlfriend made you angry or that you had to leave the restaurant because of her. But really it was your belief that no one has a right to question your rightness, such as the way you eat with your mouth open. "That's rude and intolerable."

So you created your own reaction with what you told yourself. It may have been instant and below the level of your consciousness but there was your voice inside telling you these things. Actually, though, you did have other choices. You could have actually listened and understood her viewpoint - you would then still have a girlfriend and have learned something useful. And your girlfriend would have renewed respect and love for you.

Your inner voice can talk you into a lot of trouble or it can create a positive outlook that changes your life experience. The secret is to stay in the moment, to stay conscious, and spot your voice when it is replaying old tapes and talking nonsense, when it is being intolerant, exaggerating or over-reacting.

You are made of love; when your thoughts are judgmental and resisting what is, then you can recognize that is not the real you. So my advice is: if it's not love, STOP, gather yourself in the moment and reconsider.

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Next Lesson: 9. Overcoming Our Fears

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