By Magna Porterfield, Ph.D., Psychologist
If you were to one day record all of your thoughts, what would you discover? You might be surprised at what you would find. What we think reveals a lot about who we are. This is why the wise man Solomon stated thousands of years ago that “as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.”1 Professionals and laypeople alike are learning more about thoughts and how they affect how we live and who we are. Let’s look at some specific areas in our lives that are linked to how we think.
Thoughts and Emotions
Our emotions are directly related to how we think. Many of us make statements such as, “He made me feel mad” or “I felt sad because she wouldn’t do such and such.” It is true that as human beings we do have an impact on another’s feelings (and even their words and actions). However, the idea that other people or situations “make us” feel a certain way is not completely accurate. In a nutshell, it is not what happens to us that controls how we feel, but it is our thoughts about what occurs that is more directly tied to the emotions we experience.
Here is an example: You are at work and a colleague who typically holds conversations with you does not say much on a particular day. How you feel about this situation is not determined so much by that person’s behavior, but more by what you tell yourself about his or her behavior. If you say to yourself, “I can’t believe she didn’t talk much to me!” or “Why is he ignoring me?” you are more likely to feel hurt, angry, or rejected. However, if your thoughts are, “Well, maybe he is very busy today” or “Maybe she has something on her mind that is distracting her,” you will be less likely to feel negative emotions.
When we experience anger, sadness, happiness or excitement, one of the things we can ask ourselves is, “What thoughts am I having that is causing me to feel this way?” When we understand the relationship between thoughts and emotions, we can learn to better manage how we respond, on an emotional level, to various people, situations, and events.
Thoughts and Behavior
“Thought is the blossom; language the bud; and action the fruit behind it.” These words by Ralph Waldo Emerson provide a picture of how thoughts and behavior are related. The “fruit” of our lives – our actions – often starts its process of growth with the thoughts that we have. For a clear illustration of this, we will refer back to the example given in the previous section. If we think that the person who didn’t speak to us is ignoring us, we may choose to ignore that person the next time we see them. Or, if we think to ourselves that the individual was having a bad day, we may call them up or go to them to further inquire about this.
Thoughts and the Body
Consider the following:
“Every time you think an angry thought, an unkind thought, a sad thought, your brain releases chemicals that make your body feel bad and activate your deep limbic system (in the brain)… Think about the last time you were mad. How did your body feel? When most people are angry, their muscles become tense…heart beats faster…
hands sweat…Your body reacts to every negative thought you have.” 2
The above quote illustrates how thoughts can affect our bodies. And if they impact our bodies, then it stands to reason that they will also affect our physical health. Believe it or not, many of the illnesses from which people suffer are related to the activity of their minds – especially, how they think. One inspired writer tells us that “….few realize the power that the mind has over the body. A great deal of the sickness which afflicts humanity has its origin in the mind …” 3
We see this relationship clearly when we consider the topic of stress. One neuropsychologist has stated that, “what we think is killing us.”4 In most situations, we experience stress not because of the situation itself, but because of what we think about the situation. Often times, such stress can lead to physical disease. We know this to be true because it has been found that stress is directly linked to diseases such as type 2 diabetes, obesity, hypertension, cancer, etc.
Change Your Thoughts, Change your Life
So, based on all that has been shared, the bottom line is that if you want to change your life – which includes your emotions, your behavior, and even your health – then work on changing your thoughts. This is something that we all can do. It does take an intentional effort and time to accomplish. But if you make a commitment to do this, you will not regret it!
Proverbs 23:7, King James Version
Amen, Daniel. Change Your Brain, Change Your Life.
White, Ellen G. Mind, Character, and Personality Vol. 2, p. 394.
Howard, Michael, Ph.D. Stress Workshop.