Thoughts and Feelings

“The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.” -William James

This is a lesson I learn over and over again. We have choice in what we decide to think about. Is this a radical notion to you? Or just obvious? Do you do it? Here is where I get stuck. I know it. I don’t always do it. It takes intention and attention.

There is a book I love called, Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself by Joe Dispenza. He says we have habitual ways of thinking and feeling that may not serve us.

He describes our habitual feedback loop of thoughts and feelings: I think a thought and it gives me a feeling. The feeling then leads to more of the same kinds of thoughts which lead to or reinforce the feeling, etc.

For example, I wake up in the morning and as I lie in bed, I start to think about my day. And the thought comes to me – “wow; I have so much to do today; how will I ever get it done?”

This thought creates a sense of anxiety in me. Now I get out of bed feeling anxious. And the next thing I encounter, I react to from a place of anxiety, and so, I continue to think anxious thoughts. “Can I get this done?” “What if this doesn’t work out?” “That person is mad at me.” “Everything is going wrong.” Etc.

For me the best way to intervene in this loop goes back to the William James quote. Here’s how I do it. I notice when I am not feeling great – anxious, sad, overwhelmed, etc. Then I ask myself “what am I/have I been thinking about?” And then, “what would I rather think about?”

I went to Hawaii recently. What a peaceful and gorgeous place this is for me. And yet I found myself nervous and uncomfortable at the beginning of the trip. I asked myself, “what are you thinking about?” I realized I was worried about safety. This is a common theme for me. (Joe Dispenza and many others will tell you we have a few thoughts that we think over and over again.) I realized the voice in my head was saying things like “this might not be safe” and “something bad could happen,” and it was creating in me a feeling of anxiety. When I saw this, I chose a different thought. (I first asked myself if I was truly safe? Yes.) Then I chose a different thought. “The ocean is gorgeous. The air is soft.” It brought me present and when I found anxiety come in again, I asked myself what I was thinking about. Sometimes I was thinking about work. “What if I miss something?” or “what if something goes wrong while I am gone.” (I asked myself if that was truly likely. No.) And so I redirected my thoughts to something else. “What will I do today? What is my current physical experience?”

It seems we believe that feelings just happen. But the source of our feelings is often our thoughts. This is such an empowering thing to learn! Often we act as if we have no choice over what we decide to think. Consider the possibility that you do have some choice.

Let me be clear. I am not suggesting “positive thinking” – that you try to think a thought you don’t actually believe. I am saying there are so many different things you could think about at any moment in time. You really are choosing which one to think – though unconsciously. So try making it a conscious choice: Which thought serves you? Which feels best?

Try it and see what you learn!

About the Author

Picture of Cami McLaren

Cami McLaren

is the owner of McLaren Coaching. She has been coaching professionals and leaders since early 2008. She runs Transformative Coaching Essentials, a coach training program that produces first rate Professional Coaches and "Coach-Style Leaders." She coaches individually and works with organizations to improve communication, time management, productivity and ultimately bring greater results.

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