Thoughts, Feelings and Behaviors

I recently shared with you some information I heard in church, of all places, about our emotions not being the boss of us. Emotions are interrelated with thoughts. Our thoughts greatly influence our emotions and our emotions also impact our thoughts.

For example, if you eat a very large piece of cake after intending to eat “only a sliver,” you may think things such as, “Why did I do that to myself?” or “I just blew my diet for the entire day!” or “I’m such a loser!” These thoughts result in feelings like guilt, anger, and disgust. And to throw in yet another piece with “thoughts” and “feelings” to make a nice little triangle, let’s add “behavior!”

Our behaviors are dramatically influenced by our thoughts and feelings. If you’re an “emotional eater,” you may just turn to food when you feel guilt, anger and disgust in an attempt to “stuff your feelings,” literally and figuratively. So now you’ve just responded to unpleasant feelings about having eaten more than you intended to … be eating again.

See the connection? The reason it is so important to understand the triangle of thoughts, feelings and behaviors is so that you can put forth some effort and make a change in any of these. This will change the entire process.

Using the same example… you eat too large a piece of cake and have negative thoughts about having done so or about yourself. These thoughts result in uncomfortable feelings, which often lead to self-sabotaging behavior.

THIS time, when you hear yourself engaging in those negative thoughts (“Why did I do that to myself?” or “I just blew my diet for the entire day!” or “I’m such a loser!”), the awareness that these thoughts are not going to help you, you say to yourself, “STOP! I refuse to beat myself up for eating the large piece of cake. It was not the best decision I could have made and I can do better. I am going to journal about this and see if I can get insight into the reason I may have eaten more than the “sliver” I intended to eat. I refuse to ruin my mood or engage in any additional self-destructive behavior because of that one choice. I’m going to go call my friend and talk about it with her as she helps me take responsibility but also gives me good suggestions to avoid doing this in the future.” In this example, you began by changing your thinking. More positive thinking leads to minimizing the guilt or disgust you have about eating the cake. You may feel proud that you stopped a negative cycle. You may feel hopeful because you refrained from eating more than you did and you made a plan to process what happened. Your thoughts improved, your feelings were more pleasant and your behavior is sure to follow.

Maybe you don’t notice that you are engaging in negative thinking, but you definitely recognize the horrible feeling of guilt and disgust related to overeating. You can start with the emotions and say, “This is not how I want to feel. I want to feel hopeful and proud and I’ll start now by changing my behavior.” You walk away from the cake and all of the food and engage in conversation with people you enjoy. You recognized that you didn’t like the way you felt and chose a healthier behavior which results in more positive thoughts.

Change happens when you become aware of having negative thoughts, when you are aware that you are experiencing unpleasant feelings or when you become aware that you are engaging in unhealthy behaviors AND when you choose to consciously change something in this cycle. Change your thoughts to more positive ones and you feel better and make better choices. Decide you don’t like how you feel and make positive behavioral choices. Engage in a healthy activity and you will feel better and have more positive thoughts about yourself.

What do you think? Try it and find out!