Weird question, I know.
And to be honest, the first time I heard someone ask that, I was confused at first.
But it’s a very important question.
Would you like to know why?
Buckle up 🙂
I first heard this question at a workshop at the NANC Conference at the beginning of the month (which was fantastically brilliant and incredible, by the way). I was attending a workshop on “Most common diagrams used in counseling” which was led by Brad Bigney. I love visual aids, and I’ve discovered that counselees often do, as well, so I was extremely excited about this workshop.
I learned a lot of good information, but there was one diagram in particular that really stood out to me. And it was while he was explaining this diagram that he stopped for a minute and said, “Have you ever thought about what you’re thinking about?”
He told a story about a man he had counseled who had a problem with anger. He used this diagram with the guy, and then gave him some practical homework (which I’ll share later) that would make him stop and think about what he was thinking about. The guy kind of thought he was crazy, but agreed. A few weeks later, the counselee was so excited he was telling everyone, “This guy is amazing, you have to see him! He made me think about what I was thinking about and it changed my life.”
Excited yet? 🙂
Let’s start with the diagram. The diagram deals with why we do what we do.
I think it’s safe to say that for a lot of us, we do things out of habit. But how did it become habit? What is our motivation? What were we thinking?
So here’s how it plays out.
The diagram without the, um, diagram.
First we have…
Stuff happens. Stimuli could be anything… it could be positive or negative, but for the sake of what we’re talking about, I’m going to go with negative for now. Let’s say you lose your job. Or someone criticizes your clothes. For some people, it could just be that you stub your toe. Like I said, it could be anything, big or small.
For the sake of our argument, let’s say someone makes a sarcastic comment to you.
What happens next is…
We begin to think all kinds of stuff when stuff happens, ya know? And what we do think when someone is rude to us? Stuff like…
“I don’t deserve to be treated that way.”
“I have a right to be treated with respect.”
“I can’t believe she’d say that after I’ve done _____ for her.”
….and so on.
And what do all of these thoughts have in common? They’re all defensive. They’re all about US. And they’re all paving the way for some pretty dangerous actions. These types of thoughts allow us to begin to justify reacting badly to the situation. Think about it — if you have a right to be treated with respect, and someone is rude to you, then your natural inclination will be to respond in kind, yes? Punish them a bit, maybe. And we think it’s justified because of our rights, what we have done for other people, how innocent we are, etc. So when we’re “threatened” so-to-speak, we lash out.
But it all starts with our thoughts.
Because it doesn’t take long for us to have these thoughts before it begins to affect our….
Yep. You guessed it.
It really doesn’t take much for our emotions to get involved.
And it’s when our emotions get involved that we start to notice something is happening.
We don’t notice it when we’re thinking because we don’t ever stop to think about what we’re thinking about.
So we begin to get upset. Angry. Irritated. Depressed. Whatever direction our thinking has gone, our emotions will follow.
Someone is rude, we get defensive and begin to think how wrong they are and how right we are, and how we deserve to be treated better, to the point that we begin to become emotional over the situation and become angry.
Once our emotions are involved, it’s almost imperceptible how fast we transition into…
Where our emotions come out.
It could be harsh words, it could be something rash like quitting your job, it could even be physical – hitting someone or something.
Whatever it is, everyone knows it at this point.
And this action reinforces the other steps.
So we begin to have some…
Thinking. Emotions. Actions.
All over again.
Our actions reinforce our wrong thinking which reinforce our emotions which reinforce our actions and ’round and ’round we go until our response to this type of situation is so reinforced that it is now our…
It’s now natural.
It’s done without thinking.
And it’s a problem.
How do we fix it?
Where the world tries to fix the problem is our actions. They think they’ve got to change the outcome. But the outcome is just that – the outcome. You can’t change the outcome for long, because it’s what comes beforethat is driving the outcome.
And what comes before? Emotions. But those are also an outcome, aren’t they?
Of our thinking.
Our thinking is where it all begins.
So you have a problem. It could be something simple or something more complex, but either way, there are things you’ve noticed about your character and response to certain situations which is wrong; and you know it’s wrong. So how do you fix it?
Let’s say it’s overeating.
You know you’re not eating right. Not only do you eat til you feel ill, you’ve also started gaining weight. Things are going downhill. You want to eat right, but it’s just so hard. You eat without thinking about what you’re eating or how much you’re eating, and then afterwards you wonder what happened.
Now we know what the action is – it’s overeating.
But let’s back up to the thinking.
What is running through your mind when you’re eating? When you’re already full, but there’s that second helping of desert that just looks so good…
Maybe you’re thinking something like this:
“It’s not a big deal.”
“I’ve had a rough day, I deserve it.”
“I’ll make up for it later.”
“I don’t want it to go to waste.”
I want to particularly zoom in on the “I’ve had a rough day, I deserve it” idea. Because that’s something I struggle with.
My stimulus is a long, exhausting day. When I’m tired, have had a long day, and am emotional worn out, the LAST thing I want to do is eat right.
So I begin to think things like I just listed, but especially the “I deserve it” bit.
Which affects my emotions by causing me to feel sorry for myself, therefore, allowing me to be self-indulgent, to the point where I overeat.
And I justified it all at the very beginning by my thinking.
So what are you thinking about?
When we’re in it, we usually don’t pay any attention to what we’re thinking about.
We’ve got to stop and think about what we’re thinking about.
And here’s how you can do that:
Carry a notebook with you. In your purse or backpack or on your desk or in the car or SOMETHING. But have a notebook with you at all times possible. And then, when you start to notice your emotions “spiking” like we talked about – either self-pity, anger, or whatever it is that you’ve noticed you have a problem with – stop right then and open your notebook and write down exactly what you’re thinking.
You will be amazed.
Do this for a month, and when you look back, you’ll be shocked at what you’ve been thinking.
And the best part is, once you know what you’re thinking, you’ll be able to see what destructive thinking patterns you’ve developed, and you’ll be able to start replacing them with the right thinking patterns – the truth.
So what would I need to think about when I’ve had a long day and don’t want to eat right?
Maybe something like this:
“If I overeat, I’m going to feel bloated and sick to my stomach in a few hours.”
“I’ll kick myself tomorrow when I step on the scale.”
“If I respond to my tiredness with lack of control, this will spillover into other areas of my life.”
“I need to seek God for refreshment.”
“I need to glorify God with my body.”
We need to stop and think about what we’re thinking about.
Because what we think will determine how we live.
In a word: passionate. About Jesus, church, ministry, music, reading, family, friends, and sometimes even iced skinny soy mochas.