Thoughts, feelings & behaviour
There is a funny relationship between our thoughts, feelings, and behaviour. Each one has an influence on the other two. Looking through photos may remind us of a happy event and give us positive feelings. Thinking through the ‘what-ifs’ of an upcoming holiday may cause us to feel stress and over-prepare. Thoughts, feelings, and behaviour are linked.
Positive & negative impacts
Sometimes our thoughts may feel out of our control. Ruminating (repeating negative thoughts) feels terrible. It is also exhausting. Ruminating ruins our concentration, making simple activities like reading or studying challenging. Plus, negative thoughts have a whole host of negative impacts on our bodies.
Positive thoughts, as you likely know, improve our health, creativity, and energy levels.
Thoughts influence behaviour
Scientists say it’s simple to manipulate someone’s behaviour by influencing his or her thoughts. They call this ‘priming’. Priming happens when the researcher introduces an idea very subtly. For example, they ask the subjects to read a list of specific words.
In one experiment, researchers gave a list of words related to being older. These were words such as grey, wrinkles, and retirement. The scientists then measured the speed at which subjects walked to the elevator. People who had read these priming words walked significantly slower than people who had read neutral words. Similar experiments have been done with different words. These tests have shown priming can have many effects. It can even decrease math test results or increase cooperation in a board game. The most amazing part of this is that people have no awareness of being primed. And they rarely recognize their behaviour has changed.
Priming works because of the skill we developed as children – the ability to categorize and group information. As our children grow up, this creates their view of the world. It also creates the core narrative they will take with them throughout life. Most of us relate wrinkles to being older and moving more slowly. But what other core narratives does your child have? Are girls bad at math? Does an interest in computers mean someone is smart? Learning your child’s core narratives requires deep personal reflection, (what have you been teaching?) as well as conversations with him or her.
In general, it is useful to trust our thoughts. This gives us faith in our ability to judge situations and act appropriately. It builds our confidence in interacting in the world. However, not all thoughts are useful.
Most of us (kids and adults) have an ongoing commentary running through our heads. It’s important to learn to bring conscious awareness to our thoughts because:
- When we are not aware of our thoughts, we react rather than act with intention.
- Even when we push our thoughts away, they still impact our feelings and behaviour.
- Without awareness, we may mistake our thoughts for facts.
- Accepting our thoughts is linked with higher self-esteem.
Accepting a thought means acknowledging it. It does not mean agreeing with it.
Metacognition is thinking about thinking. As we’ve shown, it’s important to teach our children to examine their thoughts. As a first step, we can acknowledge and accept both our own thoughts and those of our loved ones. When a child’s thoughts and feelings are treated with respect, he internalizes that respect.
Building internal resilience
This week we will go through techniques to examine our thinking and to teach our children to do the same. It’s a potentially life changing skill!
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