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Thoughts are Not Feelings, but They Can Definitely Determine a Mood

Updated: Jan 16

-Teresa Jacobson, DBH, LPCC-S, NCC

August 4, 2023



“Nothing can harm you as much as your own thoughts unguarded.”

-Gautama Buddha


It amazes me how unaware we can be of the thoughts swirling around our wandering

minds and day-dreaming tendencies. Whether deeply focused in thoughts or dissociated, many of us think we are much more aware than we truly are.


Self-awareness researchers working with Tasha Eurich (2017) found two types of people:

"There are those who think they are self-aware, and those who actually are."

Eurich and colleagues research revealed that 95% of people believe they are self aware, but only 10-15% are.


What is self awareness, and why is it so important?


Self awareness is having insight and introspection and "is broadly defined as as the extent to which people are consciously aware of their internal states and their interactions or relationships with others" (Sutton, 2016).


If you make a commitment to yourself to develop awareness and insight, "you can learn and grow from mistakes, tragedies, and successes" (Eurich, 2017). It is one of the critical thinking skills humans have that can help us evolve. However, self awareness does not necessarily come natural. In fact, it's often the hardest step.


In life wrought with tragedies, pain, loss, grief, stress, and challenges, and other adverse life experiences, sometimes our thinking betrays us. Sometimes introspection and questions we ask ourselves like why something happened might not provide us with accurate answers, instead provide us with assumptions we might make from our perception of events, others, or ourselves.


"Self analysis can trap us in a mental hell of our own making" (Eurich, 2017). We may refute disbelief of our "truths" when others question us because we deeply believe in them, but this is a trap that can lead to much sadness and anxiety. It is hard to understand, especially if we are unaware that we could come up with irrational beliefs or cognitive distortions when this well-worn path of beliefs in our minds seems so very real, or accurate to us.


Once Self-Aware, then What?


Depending on the lens we use when thinking, our thoughts can make us feel much worse. One unhealthy, unhelpful, and inaccurate thought can lead to a chain reaction of others, and soon we are spiralling into a rabbit hole of disguise, darkness, and despair. There is a reason Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has been a gold standard in treatment for depression and anxiety in the fields of Counseling and Psychology for decades.


Psychologist and researcher Dr. Aaron Beck developed Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) after recognizing unhealthy thinking patterns and beliefs in the people he worked with. "Since he developed CBT in the 1960s and 1970s, this revolutionary treatment has been found to be effective in over 2000 clinical trials for a wide range of mental disorders, psychological problems, and medical conditions with psychological components" (Beck & Fleming, 2021). Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is based on the construct that a person's interpretations of a situation influences their emotional, behavioral, and physiological reaction. The interpretations or "automatic thoughts" that come to mind may be skewed, inaccurate and unhelpful.


In CBT, "Dr. Beck found that when he helped his patients evaluate and change their distorted thinking, they felt better and were able to modify their behavior" (Beck & Fleming, 2021). "When he helped them evaluate and change their underlying beliefs, their improvement was long-lasting." Since Beck's research, CBT has become the most "widely practiced", practical and "heavily researched" therapeutic modality in the world.


One very helpful CBT tool commonly used in counseling sessions to help clients understand, evaluate, and redefine thoughts, can be difficult to do. This CBT strategy refers to disputing irrational thoughts or cognitive distortions. This "catch" phrase refers to Catch it, Check it, Change it. It is a simple concept, but a lot harder than it sounds to implement, until it becomes more natural with practice.


Catch it, Check it, Change it


Designed to diminish the worry or depressing thought cycles that can spiral someone, the idea behind Catch it, Check it, Change it is very logical. Breaking the cycle of unhelpful and unhealthy thoughts involves using analysis within one's mind, out loud, or on paper, to see if a particular thought is helpful, healthy, and serves a purpose. If not, it's important to either get rid of the thought, or modify it to be healthier and more helpful.


Step 1: Catch it

For example, "I'm never going to feel better" is a common thought one who is not feeling well

might have. Next, let's analyze it.


Step 2: Check it

Is this healthy? No, not at all. This thought alone can contribute to a worsening mood.


Is this helpful? Definitely not. This thought can lead to another unhelpful thought, like "I might

as well stop trying." Can you see where this second thought would likely increase despair and

hopelessness?


Does the statement "I'm never going to feel better" serve a purpose? Absolutely not,

unless there is some self-punishment going on, in which case the purpose is not healthy or

helpful and we may need a more in-depth conversation.


Step 3: Change it

"I feel horrible in this moment, but it doesn't mean that this moment will last forever."

Can you see where this modification of thought can offer not only self-validation and hope, but

also the truth that it doesn't mean the horrible moment will be everlasting?


Stop Asking Why


Researcher Tasha Eurich and colleagues (2017) found the commonality of those 10-15% of those who were self aware is they no longer asked why. In their daily lives, people who ask why tend to go down the path of self-loathing. For example, "Why did this happen to me?" only leads us to fill in the blank, as defined by our interpretation of events, thoughts, and perceptions, some of which may come from old unhealthy schemas of belief about one's self.


"Why" can lead to answers from one's own thoughts like presuming "there must be something wrong with me." Asking "why" creates alternative facts and beliefs over time, which can skew or cloud our perceptions. So What is the answer?


"What" leads to a much better question. "Instead of why am I like this, ask, what can I do in this moment to help myself?" Instead of "Why don't I feel better?" ask "What can I do to comfort myself in a healthy way right now?"


Though it feels counter-intuitive, we don't want to presume all of our thoughts are accurate. Sometimes things happen in our lives that cause us to see the world and ourselves differently. With self-awareness, things can begin to change.


If you make a daily commitment to reflect on how you think, you may have a much more accurate reading of yourself. You can more authentically understand and who you are, and project the image you would like others to see in the world. Using both Catch it, Check it, Change it, and What can make a world of difference both in one's mood and self-worth.




 

Teresa Jacobson is a Doctor of Behavioral Health and Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor Supervisor who provides therapy using evidence-based practices to counsel Ohio and Kentucky adults of all ages and life experiences via secure Telehealth/Video visits. An empathetic, strength-based, person-centered multi-cultural counselor with an existential philosophy, Teresa can be reached by emailing teresa@steppingtowardserenity.org, calling

(513) 206-3026, or visiting https://www.steppingtowardserenity.org


 

References



Beck, J.S. and Fleming, S. (2021). A brief history of Aaron T. Beck, MD, and Cognitive Behavior Therapy.

Clinical Psychology in Europe. 3(2). DOI:10.32872/cpe.6701 Retrieved from


Eurich, T. (2017). Increase your self-awareness with one simple fix Tedx Talks. Retrieved from


Sutton, A. (2016). Measuring the effects of self-awareness: Construction of the self-awareness

outcomes questionnaire. Europes Journal of Psychology. Retrieved from




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