Understanding Your Inner Workings

A Super Quick Intro to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

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I began graduate school in the fall of 2002. Since that time, I have been indoctrinated with the notion that thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are interconnected. Change one, change them all.

This is the foundation of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), the therapy approach that I have practiced for the past billion years. This view has become so ingrained in me that I cannot turn it off.

Nor do I really want to. It makes sense. It gives a clear model for understanding emotions and how to change them. I practice what I preach and have found it invaluable. Here’s a crash course to get you up to speed.

As I mentioned, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are all connected. Imagine I walk past a group of people, and they start laughing. I think, “Jeez Louise! Why are they laughing at me? I thought this outfit looked pretty cool.” How am I going to feel?

Self-conscious. Embarrassed. Anxious.

What am I going to do?

Hurry past, avert my eyes, and never wear this stupid shirt again.

This time, imagine that as I walk past a group of people who start laughing I think, “Wow! Sounds like they’re having fun!” I’m going to feel completely differently. I’m happy, entertained. Maybe I make eye contact and smile. Maybe I even say hello.

Same scenario, two very different chains of thoughts-feelings-behaviors. See? What I think drives how I feel and what I do.

The cycle can start in other places, too. Ever noticed that if you’re feeling happy or calm you are way less bothered by things like your partner leaving the toilet seat up or someone cutting you off in traffic compared to when you’re already stressed out, sad, or irritated? That’s because our feelings can influence our train of thought as well. Happy Ashley thinks, “That’s a nice breeze” whereas Irritated Ash thinks, “I hate this  wind!” (The wind really is a pet peeve of mine. Don’t judge. We all have our things).

Still with me? Great! Let’s keep going.

Physical sensations—what’s going on inside your body—are an important piece of the feelings category, too (consider Feelings as both physical and emotional).

I remember the first time I went to a coffee shop. I had about 3 gallons of coffee. By the time I got home, my heart was slamming in my chest. My poor then-boyfriend said one tiny little thing, and this happened: My brain said, “That’s not that big of a deal…Wait. Heart’s pounding. We’re not scared, so we must be angry. Really ANGRY. Oh heck no! He should NOT have said that. Game on!” Commence yelling.

Even in the midst of it (and definitely afterwards), I had some awareness that what he said really wasn’t a big deal, definitely not something that would have normally set me off, but the state inside my body told my brain I was mad. Crazy cool, huh? 

I challenge you to start to notice the link between your thoughts, feelings, and actions. Be a good observer and really get to know your inner workings.

This awareness opens the door for some really cool changes that can have huge impacts on your life. They certainly (and I”m sure will continue to) have on mine!

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