Many people believe that the feelings and emotions they experience are determined by external factors. You may have heard or said, ‘That weekend away made me feel so relaxed’. Or, ‘My manager makes me feel anxious’.
If you examine the relationship between an external event or a person’s behaviour and how you reacted to it, you will find there is a connecting point in the middle.
Suppose you are at work and meet Julia, who just joined your team. You greet Julia and as you talk to her, you notice she looks around the office and makes no eye contact. How would you feel based on each of the following thoughts?
Thought #1 – ‘Julia probably thinks that I am a boring and uninteresting person’.
Thought #2 – ‘I can’t believe how rude Julia is!’
Thought #3 – ‘Julia is probably nervous and anxious about her first day at the office’.
As you probably guessed it, different thoughts make you feel differently in the same situation.
Your thoughts have a powerful impact on your emotions. Negative interpretations of people’s behaviours and events often happen quickly and automatically, resulting in the assumption that they are true.
How can you influence the way you feel?
Positive thoughts can make you feel excited and happier. Negative thoughts, on the other hand, can lead you to feel anxious and down. If you often feel anxious or distressed, becoming more aware of unhelpful thoughts can help you change them and influence the way you feel.
A strategy psychologists use to help their clients is the ABC model. This model is at the core of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and can help you identify and describe your thoughts and perceptions and influence the way you feel and behave.
With this model, you start by identifying the (A) Activating Events that trigger strong negative emotions. You then must identify the (C) Consequences such as your feelings and behaviours as a result of the event. Lastly, identify the (B) Beliefs, perceptions and thoughts that went through your mind.
Using this tool can help you become aware of the events that trigger strong negative thoughts and feelings and replace them with positive responses that make you feel better.
Use a Thought Diary to Influence Your Feelings
Another useful tool psychologists often recommend their clients use is a ‘thought diary’. A thought diary enables you to capture a collection of thoughts over time and evaluate them. You can use a simple template with four columns to record details of unhelpful thinking, including:
- When the event happened
- Situation, e.g., what you were doing, where and who you were with
- Emotion and intensity on a scale from 0 to 10, with 10 being extreme, e.g. I felt (extremely) sad, 10.
- Thought and how much you believed it on a scale from 0 (not at all) to 10 (completely), e.g., (I completely believe that) nobody likes me, 10.
Completing a thought diary can provide you with valuable insights into your unhelpful thinking patterns. Try completing one over the course of a week. Once you have detected unhelpful thought patterns, it is important to challenge them and replace them with positive ones.
Several mobile apps are available to help you capture unhelpful thoughts. Here’s a couple:
Clarity CBT Thought Diary provides a way to collect and work through negative thoughts daily.
Worry Watch includes a worry diary to help you identify trigger points.