A Happiness Journey

How to take control of your Life

 

As you all know, I consume a lot of material from many great teachers, so I can pass it on to, well, pretty much anyone who’ll listen! Most teachers have a model that they work to, and most of the models are very similar. I’d like to share with you the most successful and comprehensive model I’ve come across by Brooke Castillo, as I feel that once everyone is armed with this basic knowledge, they will finally have the tools to be in control of their own lives.

 

CIRCUMSTANCE – THOUGHT – FEELINGS – ACTION – RESULTS

 

So essentially, what this model shows, is that there are things we cannot control. These are Circumstances. They are facts, that everyone can agree on, and would stand up in a court of law. I own a white SUV. I am a woman. I live in Australia. I work for Sea Shepherd. There is no description, as this would be my opinion layered onto the fact, there is merely the circumstance. Circumstances are the ONLY things we can’t control, everything else we can!

 

Everything that happens after the circumstance, every result, every action we take, every feeling we have, starts with a Thought. We have these thoughts, based on many different factors, around our conditioning, upbringing, childhood, stories we tell ourselves, the environment we live in, the people we surround ourselves with etc. But the long and short of it is that, how our realities are shaped, starts with the thoughts that we think.

 

What is a Thought?

A thought is merely a sentence, that we hear, in our mind. It is caused by neurons firing electrical impulses in the brain. So, they are just electrical impulses that are firing constantly. I wrote an entire article on what thoughts are, so I won’t go into too much detail, except that we usually think the thoughts we have by default. They are what we have picked up, from our care givers and society as we have grown up. When a circumstance has happened to us as a child, we look for the reactions from those around us, and based on those we create a thought and a story around that circumstance. Due to our mental immaturity at the time, the thoughts we think are rarely the best thoughts to have, but they create our stories, and we carry these through into adulthood. They form our beliefs and we never tend to question them ever again.

 

The important aspect of the model though, is that its the thought that applies the meaning to the circumstance. Bill gets fired from his job. He could think “oh my god, this is the end of the world!” “how am I going to support my family?” “this is the worst thing that could happen to me right now”. Or, he could think “wow, this is amazing!” “I’ve been needing the kick up the arse to leave this job for ages!” “now I finally have the time and the motivation to start that project I’ve always been interested in”. The thought is always an opinion and could be argued with or disagreed with. But as you can see from the example I’ve used, the thought we choose to think will then influence how we feel about the circumstance.

 

What is a Feeling?

So the next step in the model is Feeling. When we have a thought about something, neurotransmitters and hormones are released into our bodies and we experience the physiological response in our body (emotion). How we interpret that sensation in our body is a Feeling. If Bill thinks great thoughts about losing his job, then the feelings he may feel would be akin to excitement, joy, happiness etc. If he thinks terrible thoughts about losing his job he may feel anxious, angry, or sad. Maybe he’ll think negative thoughts about himself, like he’s a loser.

 

The feeling we experience will then drive the action we take. Now the action could be Inaction or Reaction as well. If Bill’s depressed he could go home with a bottle of vodka, lock himself away from the world and disappear down a black hole. If he’s excited he may rush home, whip out his laptop and start creatively designing the website for his new business venture.

 

The problem with feelings, like anything in our primitive brains, the more negative they are, the more of an impact they have. We are wired with a negative bias to keep us safe, so the brain is way more likely to latch onto that negative thought and feeling, because these are what it is trained to pay more attention to.

 

As you can see from the action, the results we get, are a culmination of the actions we take.

 

The brain is a super computer and it prides itself on being efficient and correct. When it has a thought and a feeling about something, it then confirms it’s selection by looking for evidence to prove that it’s correct in making its selection. This is called Confirmation Bias and it’s the tendency to search for, interpret, favour and recall information in a way that confirms or supports our prior beliefs and values. So, if Bill goes home depressed, and drinks himself into a stupor, rather than going job hunting, chances are he’s not going to find himself a new job. His inaction will lead to no new job, and his brain will confirm, yep, you’re definitely a loser. This helps to establish a negative story he has around himself being a loser and his results confirm his beliefs, causing him to think more negative thoughts which will perpetuate the negative cycle.

 

The more we think negative things, the more we create the negative emotion response in our body. When we’re experiencing an emotion, neurotransmitters and peptides (hormones) are released into our blood. Just like any chemical, we get addicted to these. The more we think it, the more peptides, the more addiction, and the cycle commences. This shows how hard it can be to actually break the familiar thinking / feeling cycle, and start thinking something new. The body says “hang on a minute, this doesn’t feel normal, I don’t like this at all” and promptly takes your thoughts back to the negative place, which, whilst not very pleasant, is at least familiar, and releasing all those lovely peptides you’re so addicted to. Ever wonder why you can’t stop scrolling social media? That’s the dopamine neurotransmitter quietly being released that we’re all hooked on. Anyway, I digress.

 

(On a side note, we can also experience emotions independently, but it’s the thought we have about it that interprets it as a feeling. For example, when I’ve too much coffee, the same neurotransmitters are released as when I have anxiety. So sometimes, I can feel a sensation in my gut and I can jump to the conclusion that it means something that it doesn’t. I’m not necessarily anxious about something, I may just need to cut back on my caffeinated beverages).

 

What’s the solution?

I’m not saying it’s easy, but it’s certainly simple. The solution is to change your thoughts. Now you know your thoughts are responsible for EVERYTHING in your life, it certainly seems worth the effort right?? It takes brain power to watch your brain, effort to analyse and change. Most people would rather not bother and just choose to default to what they’ve always thought.

 

The first step to changing your thoughts is to start watching the ones you’re already having. Pay attention to the things you loop around your head. We have thousands of thoughts a day and most of them are the same as the ones we had yesterday so start watching them. Then think to yourself, what do I feel when I think that? What do I do when I feel that? Be compassionate with yourself and spend some time understanding your thoughts and the consequences of them.

 

As I explained earlier, because we are so used to thinking the thoughts and the patterns we’re used to thinking and we’re addicted to the peptides that those release, there is a period of cognitive dissonance where it will initially feel uncomfortable for a while whilst we start to think new things. The trick is that you need to do it gradually and it needs to be believable. There’s no point in going from “I hate myself” to “I love myself” in one hit and expect it your brain to accept it. That’s why a lot of positive affirmations don’t work. You need to be more gradual than that. If the thought you’re thinking is a particularly negative one then go for the next level up, until you hit a neutral thought. You may hate your body, for example. You wouldn’t then go straight to “I love my body”, you may go to “I have a body” to “my body functions well”, “my body is healthy” etc. Find a path that feels believable, gradual and then repeat, repeat, repeat.

 

Whilst it’s uncomfortable for a short while whilst your brain is making the shift, it won’t be long before the new thought is the easy thought. You can monitor this by monitoring how you’re feeling. If you’re feeling different then you must be thinking different.

 

Like everything to do with personal development this takes time, patience and effort but it’s worth it. We all want to feel good, or at least better, we all want to live happy, fulfilling lives. So for 30 minutes a day, it’s worth sitting down with your thoughts (they’re going to happen whether you do it consciously or not) and decide, what do I want to feel today? What would I need to think to feel that? Don’t be at the mercy of your circumstances. Life happens for you, not to you.

 

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