Behaviors & Habits Pt.II: Thoughts
Last time we discussed the connection of identity to action and the value of alignment between those two things. This is consistency in being who you say you are and doing what you say you will. Now, we add thought. Our thinking, when intentional, inspires action and is a reflection of who we are. Intention is what we usually lack. For most of us our thoughts are on auto-pilot, we do not direct what we are thinking nor how we are thinking about it. From this perspective are thoughts are linear like a bowling lane (with gutters up) or maybe imagine horse with blinders, essentially tunnel vision. We’re assigned to the lane and we stay in our lane. These limitations on our thoughts are self-imposed. So, this is why thought is the big one. Really it is, like, the key to everything. And I know I said that about ARA (awareness, reflection, and adjustments), but these concepts go hand in hand.
Thoughts: what and how you think?
what we think and the other is how we think.
What we think is the actual content of our thoughts. What are most of your thoughts about, or not about. Work, school, future, past, mistakes, funny things, sad things, family? We have an estimated 70,000 thoughts per day. Knowing what we think about lets us what we are focused on. Thoughts are our focus. The most consistent thoughts (remember frequency, intensity and intention) reveal what is at the forefront of our minds whether it is something we want, or are trying to avoid. We get what we think about, whether we want it or not.
How we think is like asking the question of why. It is easy to believe how we think is hard-wired and there isn’t any changing it, but are style of thinking is not fixed. We have the authority to change how we think, but we can only do it once we’re aware and recognize our power. I have an example about people who get hangry, it might even be you.
Hangry people get so upset, moody, or angry about not eating that they won’t talk to anybody and if they do, they’re coming in hot. To me, it is comical (unless you have a medical condition, of course). On top of that, they accept hangriness as a valid enough reason for their personality to change and be generally rude to people. The bonus is, hangry people usually aren’t alone. They aren’t the only person that is hungry, but may be the only person that is hangry. It’s bizarre man. I have even told my friends who get hangry how ridiculous it is. But you ever consider why they allow themselves (or you, if it’s you) to become so disturbed, as if they’re never going to eat again? It happens, because they keep cycling through the negative thoughts about how hungry they are and how angry they are that they haven’t eaten. It’s a vicious downward spiral they put themselves into, because until they eat these thoughts take up all the space in their minds. So next time it is you, or you're around someone let them know. Or send them here to me.
In this example what we think about would be hunger and that is our focus, but more importantly how we think about being hungry that links negative thoughts causing our mood to diminish and probably our stomach to growl a little more intensely. If this tangent were your own, considering how you spiral downward is examining how you think. And now you’re way less likely to become hangry next time. By acknowledging the feeling of hunger and being aware of the negative spiral, we can impede the process with positive thoughts, or other ones that don’t allow us to be consumed by food. And secondarily, you know now how ridiculous it sounds.
Like hangriness, another common feeling we lose control of easily is anxiety. It manifests in different forms, but usually has a physiological effect (thoughts affect our bodies too, in beneficial and detrimental way, this is psychophysiology). Not everyone experiences panic attacks, but we all know the detriments of feeling overly anxious, or stressed. Usually something we have to do produces anxiety. Realizing we are anxious increases our anxiety levels and before we know it, we are too tense, stressed, and overwhelmed to recognize we are no longer anxious about the task. Instead, we have become anxious about being anxious and again spiraling downward. Identifying our pattern of thinking and being the observer allows us to reduce the occurrence of the spirals. Noticing we are aware, sometimes we just need a breath, creating a moment to reset.
Becoming aware of how we think, or metacognition, is the beginning of understanding the way our thoughts are linked together. First is being the observer of our thoughts to interpret our current process of operation. Greater awareness, as always, creates space for reflection and adjustment. And yes, that adjustment in this case is control over our thoughts through guidance (how we think) and creation (what we think). For me when this one clicked, all doors started to open in a different manner and I connected to myself and others on an entirely different level as a result of this new control. A friend of mine calls it: access. Access is thinking as an observer, but also the ability to shift through multiple perspectives. Much like how you switch filters on Instagram, or snapchat. Being able to take on how others conceptualize (also known as perspective taking) is a skill useful to broadening our own thought and effective communication with others. Really important to recognize control over our thoughts and perspective taking as a skills to be honed. With practice and ARA we get better at them. Also in that practice have patience and kindness for yourself, remember that when working on any skill, but particularly a mental one.
Our thoughts, holding our intention, are the subsequent link in the chain we’ve been discussing thus far (identity-action-thought). Who we say we are should be reflected through our actions and those should be inspired by our thoughts. This connection should also work in reverse order.
Thoughts link action and feeling, too. We use our thoughts to make sense of our feelings and feelings inspire the content and way we think (what and how) like the hangry and anxious examples, but it would be the same in happy instances.
So, what thoughts do you have with the most frequency, intensity, and intention? Is that related to the way you who you say you are or what you do? Does identity, action, or thought lead your daily life? They will blend together very fast, but start by questioning a single thought.
Acknowledge the content (direction/focus) and the how of your thinking. Remember our thoughts predominantly create action and come from feeling, so the how in your thoughts can evaluate either. Consider other approaches of thinking about something, or try to understand someone else’s logic. This is when we begin to realize our assumptions, biases, heuristics, and implicit judgements. Awareness and reflection are most of the task as we begin to dig into why we operate the way we do. I would like us to implement an adjustment you deem appropriate that is different than your natural behaviors and habits.
Being more aware of ourselves and already knowing the process of change, previous limits begin to appear conquerable. This is whether they be self-imposed or from the outside world. Understanding our multilayered identities and how they correlate with our behaviors and habits (feelings, thoughts, action) is recognizing how we make sense of our world. But first, we must deconstruct it.
As wise man once said “an unexamined life is not worth living” - Socrates