How the ‘thought circle’ that affects our lives can be acknowledged, and how we can use that process to improve our confidence, reduce anxiety or worry and more.
Research and experience show that there is an innate thought driven circle that steers our actions and therefore determines the good or poor behaviors and choices that we make in life.
The Circle is one I use when working with many women who are stressed or unhappy and which is based on cognitive behavioral therapy techniques.
It is useful for low confidence and self-esteem and here we will see what it is and how we can make changes.
In simple terms, this is how the Circle looks.
This all starts with the situation, any situation.
That situation gives rise to certain thoughts and images.
These could be from a learned pattern or response or a new situation and new response feelings.
Without any conscious effort, these thoughts and images give rise to specific feelings, good or bad.
And often if our thoughts are negative, if we are hearing self-talk that we will fail, or things are going wrong, then the feelings can be acute.
This can lead to panic, worry, anxiety, a decrease in confidence or self-esteem.
And we can see how a pattern of negative thought reactions can make these negative feelings pile up inside us.
We will experience emotions and many of us will also experience physical sensations.
A sinking feeling in the pit of our stomach or that cold skin that comes from fear or worry. All too often we are then in a negative spiral
Our behaviors and subsequent actions are now determined by these thoughts and feelings. And we can find our self in a cycle of poor decisions and actions.
Our outcomes from our behaviors can make us feel worse, not better. And we may further entrench our feelings of low self-esteem or confidence.
We want to change this.
So what is going on here? And what can we do to improve the way we think, feel and act?
Understanding the process is the first step.
Taking action to intervene and change patterns of a negative ‘thought cycle’ is the next step to changing the outcomes.
Steps: What’s going on?
Let’s start with the situation.
Think of a time which triggered negative responses; perhaps an instance when you felt hurt, worried or cross.
1. Ask yourself
When did this happen? Where did this happen? What actually happened? And who else was involved, who were you with?
Write your answers down so you can reflect back.
2. Next, ask yourself
What did I think at the time? What disturbed or distressed me? What was my imagination saying to me?
What was going through my mind?
And further, what does that say about me, what does that mean about me or about the situation?
It’s important to try and capture all the thoughts, pictures and what you imagined (or imagined might happen) at the time. Set these down in your notebook.
3. Dealing with feelings
Try to recall and describe what emotions you felt at that time.
What were they telling you and how did you feel? How intense was the feeling or feelings?
Use a scale of 1 (low) to 10 (high) to rate the intensity of those emotions.
Next, think about your body. What were the physical sensations from these thoughts?
This could be anything from sweaty palms, sickness in the stomach, shivers or a numbness.
These are your sensations so try to capture them as best you can. Think about what did I feel and where did I feel it.
Add these to your notebook.
4. Behaviors and actions
Ok so far so good.
Now you need to capture the resulting behaviors and actions.
Ask yourself what you did at the time. What did you avoid doing?
What was your automatic response?
If this is difficult, try thinking what someone with a helicopter view would have seen you doing and describe it in those words.
And finally, what was the outcome? Did you feel better?
And if so was it short-lived or regretted later?
Did your reaction help your confidence or increase your self-worth or was it a negative impact that you experienced.
If your initial thoughts and images were negative, it is very, very, likely that your behaviors and actions will also be negative.
And all this negativity and poor experiences simply serve to convince ourselves that we are worthless or failures.
Step: Let’s start to make changes
Now you have an idea of what is going on.
Reading your notes may just give you an ‘AHA’ moment and you should be able to see the link between the stages of your ‘thought circle’ even though it all happens in just a second or two.
In this blog, I want to show you two options to help you press the pause button and start to reset your thoughts and your actions.
If you want to delve deeper then have a look at my upcoming courses where I cover this in-depth in small exclusive groups.
So, let’s take the first method to help you make changes.
This makes use of a Thought Diary and Strategy planning.
Set out across a landscape sheet (or whatever format you are most comfortable working in) using the following the columns / headings as described below:
- Emotions and Moods
- Physical Sensations
- Unhelpful Thoughts and Images
- Alternative / More Realistic Thoughts
- What I did and what could I do or could have done. What would be the best response for myself and others
For this technique, we are asking you to not only record the situation and your thinking or physical sensations but to take a calm look at what alternative perspective you could bring to the situation and your thoughts.
Spend some time when you have some peaceful moments to reflect and consider what alternative perspectives there are. Those alternatives are out there.
Try to use your ‘Wise Mind’ to think these through so that you have a focus point in response to the same or a similar trigger situation.
At this point, you might find it quite difficult to think through some of the alternatives or what different actions and behaviors would have defused or avoided the negative impact.
So these last two columns of your sheet are going to become your Strategy to deal with these situations.
Step: My Strategy
First, to gain a perspective and take a realistic look at what you have recorded. For this, I want you to STOP. FULL STOP.
Press the pause button.
Now think to yourself.
Is this factor is this an opinion? What would someone else see in this position?
Consider what another person who was impartial would think and say about this?
Am I basing my response on all the facts or on assumptions?
Stop and think about another way of seeing it.
Simply pausing alone can help adjust your mind to other possibilities.
For instance, is your reaction relative to the problem.
And what is the real problem anyway? What is the bigger picture?
Try to think of another way of seeing it and then think about what advice you would give to someone else.
You could find this to be very different to your automatic response.
As well as is this proportionate, realistic, ask if the matter is really as important as it now seems.
Collect your thoughts and answers and write them down.
Now that you have some answers let’s look at planning a different response.
What can I do differently, and what do I believe would help me and possibly others too in this sort of situation.
Write down what you think would be the most effective.
Ensure you are writing down what will be the most helpful for yourself and the situation.
Ask yourself what will be the consequences of doing using this different approach.
Use your ‘Wise Mind’ (Buddhists would call this your Observing Mind) and most important of all. DO WHAT WORKS.
If you can break the circle you can change the outcomes.
A lot of this is not always easy.
It may take practice.
But using STOP and asking what is really going on and what is the alternative perspective can help you enormously and save so much negativity.
From time to time I offer workshops on this topic.
So please do get in touch and find out when and where the next DO WHAT WORKS workshop is being held.
And let me know how you get on with these techniques.