Your thoughts drive your emotions. Every feeling or emotion you have, first starts with a thought or series of thoughts. Imagine you bought a Powerball ticket and are watching the drawing on TV. The first number comes up and it is a match. That’s nice. The second number comes up and it is a match. The third number is also a match. You start to feel excited. The fourth number is a match. You are at the edge of the seat and calling other people into the room. It goes on until you have matched all the numbers. That ticket is now worth $100,000,000! You scream. You dance around. You are happy, excited and maybe a little scared.
In reality, nothing has changed. Sure, tomorrow you get to go claim your millions but you don’t have it yet. Tonight nothing is different but you FEEL very different. What is causing those dance around the room, screaming excitedly emotions? It is your thoughts. You are thinking about the job you don’t have to go to, the house you could buy or the feeling of never having to worry about paying your mortgage again. It is these thoughts, these anticipations, that are causing your emotion.
This is true for all of your emotions. Hate that guy? You may be thinking about things he has done in the past or the things you think he’ll probably do in the future. Or maybe it is just because he reminds you of someone who’s done hateful things in your past. Feeling scared about the storm blowing in tonight? You might be thinking about the damage from the last storm. Maybe you are thinking about images of storm damaged towns you saw on the news. Excited about that date tonight? You might be thinking about past dates or imagining great outcomes to this date.
Feelings seem unrelated to our thoughts because are thoughts are so quick that the related feelings feel instantaneous. We think in the neighborhood of 60,000 thoughts a day. That averages around one a second. Most of these thoughts we don’t even notice. Did you notice every thought you had this morning about how many stroke to brush each tooth was enough?
Thoughts lead to feelings but where do feelings lead to? Action. Every action we take or fail to take is related either to a feeling we have or an anticipation to a feeling we want to have. Actions and inaction lead to outcomes which provide new information to our thoughts. The cycle begins anew. Now our thoughts have new information, leading to new feelings, leading to new actions/inactions and finally leading to new outcomes.
Unfortunately, this cycle frequently becomes a self-fulfilling negative loop; a vicious circle. For example, your goal is to grow a home based business enough to allow you to stay home with the kids. One of the key actions you must take is to pick up the phone and call potential customers. Some of your 60,000 thoughts start streaming through your head with negative suggestions: What if they say no? This never works for me? No one is going to take me seriously? With enough of those negative thoughts, your feelings start to turn negative. You feel scared and nervous. This leads to you either not making the customer calls or simply not making enough calls. This lack of action leads to an outcome of your business not taking off. Your thoughts have new material, new negative material, which will be used to make even stronger negative emotions the next time this situation arises.
This vicious circle of negative thoughts to negative emotion to poor action/lack of action to negative outcome works in all aspects of our lives. Have a goal of losing weight but you have been on hundreds of diets and they never work for you? Want to approach your boss for a raise but you keep putting off setting up a meeting? Want to ask that woman out you see on the bus every day but you never work up the courage? It is likely that a vicious circle of negativity has holding you back.
This process isn’t a bad process. It isn’t meant to hold you back. It is part of you. It is the part that is trying to protect you and keep you from harm. While some of the times it does holds you back, most of the time it does a great job but it largely goes unnoticed. This process is also the piece of you that reminds you to pack antacids when you go to holiday dinners at your mother in-laws. It makes sure you check in with an important customer, just to be sure things are still running smoothly. It checks your speedometer when it knows a speeding trap is frequently under the next bridge.
This process can also be switched from a vicious circle to a virtuous loop. That is when positive thoughts lead to positive feelings which lead to positive actions which lead to positive outcomes. The positive outcomes reinforcing positive thoughts the next time this situation arises.
Now the biggest question. What to do with all of this information? The next time you notice a vicious circle that is repeatedly interfering with your goals, investigate it. Honor it because it is trying to protect you. Even though it is stoping you from what you want, it isn’t trying to do you harm. In the example above where you aren’t making the customer calls that are necessary for growing your business, look at what your thoughts are. Don’t fight them. Be open and honest with yourself. Write down everything. Every thought. Every emotion. Everything. Take a break and do something calming. Go for a walk. Listen to some music. Then come back to these thoughts and feelings. Explore them. Where are they coming from? Do you have outcomes in your past that are reinforcing these thoughts? Explore those past outcomes. Learn from them. Decide what you are going to do differently than the last time. Are the negative thoughts really that negative? What if the potential customer does say no? Will that have lasting implications? Can’t you just call the next potential customers? Maybe the “bad” isn’t really that bad after all.
Now that you know what you need to do differently or have realized that the anticipated negatives really an’t so bad imagine the feelings, the actions and outcomes that will happen when you are approaching things differently. Imagine the positive outcomes. If your imagination takes you to a negative place, think through what you are going to do to overcome it.
You can turn your vicious circles into virtuous circles. By focusing on small, consistent and incremental improvements, your virtuous circles will quickly add up to create significant positive change in your life.