If someone starts talking about how thoughts affect emotions, most people would easily understand the concept of positive thinking. This is with the understanding that ‘positive’ thinking is the only way to go, and that positive thinking is what makes us feel good. Or, at least, better. But are thoughts and emotions as simple as this?
Alas – this is but part of the story! There is more to it. In this article I aim to address some essential concepts and relationships.
What are Thoughts?
We’d all likely agree that we understand that thoughts are – the voice inside our head. It’s the voice that talks to us constantly. The voice says kind things, and it says nasty things. It can be helpful and it can be very unhelpful. It can be downright annoying! In fact, it never seems to shut up! This is our thinking brain. Our conscious mind.
It is sometimes reported that we have around 50,000 to 70,000 thoughts per day. The National Science Foundation says an average person has about 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts per day. Whichever figure is closest to the truth, that’s still a lot of thoughts!
The number of thoughts is one thing, but the second part of the story is what is really interesting. Of the many tens of thousands of thoughts we are said to have each day, 95% are repetitive thoughts. All very well if they are helpful, positive and uplifting thoughts. And in so being, help by projecting us towards our goals and dreams! But – No! 80% of them are negative thoughts.
This is why it is important to know how thoughts effect emotions. A basic understanding of thoughts and emotions is essential for wellbeing, the way I see it.
How Thoughts Affect Emotions is Not New News
Clearly, we don’t need to be straight A students to recognise that repeating, day after day after day, tens of thousands of negative thoughts, is not going to be a good thing.
Many a wise man has made that same observation.
Lao Tzu was a Chinese philosopher who lived from 601BC. This quote is accredited to him:
“Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habit. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.”
One of the world’s most transformative and inspirational figures, Mahatma Gandhi, lived between 1869 and 1948, has been recorded as having said:
“A man is but the product of his thoughts. What he thinks, he becomes.”
(I’m sure he meant the same for women 😊 )
Eckhart Tolle, a modern day spiritual teacher and author (born 1948) said:
“The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation, but the thoughts about it, Be aware of the thoughts you are thinking”
So, clearly, being aware of our thoughts is incredibly important if we wish to feel happy and be successful.
Is Positive Thinking the Answer?
I am not recommending to only think positively and always be happy and as a result live happily ever after! Of course, that’s ridiculous! And quite an unhealthy expectation to place on ourselves (and others).
I am, however, dedicated to helping people understand the powerful influence our thoughts have on our wellbeing.
To know how thoughts are formed, how we can ‘supervise’ our thoughts and how our thoughts affect our emotions is to have a great insight into our mindset.
Thoughts and Emotions
Thoughts and emotions are quite distinct, and they are also inextricably related.
What are emotions?
An online dictionary defines emotions as:
a strong feeling deriving from one’s circumstances, mood, or relationships with others
another definition is given as:
instinctive or intuitive feeling as distinguished from reasoning or knowledge.
And Wikipedia says:
Emotion is a mental state associated with the nervous system brought on by chemical changes variously associated with thoughts, feelings, behavioural responses, and a degree of pleasure or displeasure. There is currently no scientific consensus on a definition.
Where Does This Knowledge Come From?
It’s easy to learn about our physical health, and how to manage it. And, it’s easy to go off and learn concepts and knowledge to put in our brain. However, learning about emotions and how to handle them is less clearly defined and understood.
Since emotions can pretty much be said to control our lives, this leaves a rather big gap in our life education. Poor understanding of why we react as we do impacts our ability to manage how we feel from day to day!
Essentially, our emotions drive us, but they are the things we know the least about.
Emotions can be brought on by an external incident like having an argument with a loved one or watching a comedy show and laughing heartily. Emotions can also be stirred by something inside us, like a memory of a sad or frightening experience.
Everyone the world over experiences emotions. Yet, each person will react to them in a different way. Depending upon culture and upbringing, people may not know what they are feeling, or why. For example, some cultures will express joy very demonstratively, like the Italians. English aristocracy will have been groomed to be much more reserved and restrained in the expression of emotions.
A Helpful Way to Think of Emotions
In the context of a healthy mindset, delivered by thoughts and emotions that support a helpful and successful outlook on life, a helpful way to think of emotions is:
Energy in Motion
If we are to feel the energy of emotion and allow it to move through the natural process it was intended to, then we have felt and processed the emotion.
Processing emotion in a healthy way
We watch a comedy show and laugh at each joke for a few minutes. And then, that joke is over. The comedian comes up with the next joke, we laugh again, and the show goes on in this manner. We don’t laugh for 3 weeks over just one joke!
We go to cross the road without having noticed an approaching car – and get an almighty fright and jump out of the way in time. Massive fear engulfed us, and saved us, and served its purpose. Once we realise we are safe, and have vowed to take more care in future, we recover from the fright. We have “processed” the emotion.
Not processing emotions
What happens, though, in the case where our emotions are supressed? As a child perhaps we were taught it is not right to express anger, or sadness. Or, children should be seen and not heard, and so should not speak our thoughts and ideas in adult company. So, we had to bottle anger and sadness inside. We learned to keep our thoughts to ourselves, like they are not worthy of sharing.
Supressed emotions don’t go away. They build, with every repeated incident. Eventually, one day, some unexpected event will trigger the release of a supressed emotion. Think of supressed anger, resulting in violent outbursts.
These bottled emotions are very unhealthy. There is evidence to indicate that supressed emotions can cause anxiety, depression and other diseases and health issues.
And, the thoughts we have, day to day, can contribute – in a helpful OR unhelpful way.
How Thoughts Effect Emotions
What we think impacts on what we feel. Thoughts trigger emotions. Positive thoughts can trigger good feeling emotions and negative thoughts can trigger emotions that result in us feeling bad.
That’s not to say that all emotions that make us feel bad are wrong, or bad in themselves. For example, if we have lost a loved one, we need to feel sad. That is right and natural.
But feeling angry, sad or fearful (or a whole host of other emotions) due to thoughts that are not realistic of the situation is not the greatest thing to deal with. Particularly for the long term.
Filter what enters our senses
An example is watching the news. What stories are up front in the news? The bad ones. The sad ones. The scary ones. They grab people’s attention and that’s what the media outlet aims to do. They need viewers and they need to present the news in the way that gets most attention for the longest time.
Another example is spending time with a person who talks in a derogatory, angry, or insulting way. What thoughts will rub off from this?
If we allow our minds to be filled with fearful, ugly, angry and distressing messages, it is likely that our thoughts will be influenced by that to some level. If not immediately, then a diet of such mental bombardment can take its toll over time.
An absence of helpful, supportive and positive influence on our thoughts promises to deliver a very miserable outlook on life.
With the rise of depression and anxiety, disturbing levels of domestic violence and suicide in our society, it seems as though any attention given to managing our thoughts is a positive approach.
(Note: In no way am I proposing putting our heads in the sand and ignoring reality! I am proposing an outlook of balance and perspective.)
Can we Choose our Thoughts and Emotions?
Yes, to a great extent, we can.
With a wish to better manage our mindset and mental health, plus the right toolbox and guidance, we can.
And this, in a nutshell, is the purpose and intention behind my existence as a mindset mentor. Having taken myself from someone who had no knowledge of the effect of thoughts on emotions, and being rather a bundle of anxiety, I fully appreciate the extraordinary power this transformative information can have on a person’s life! If you wish to discover how to create your own world of calm, increased clarity, reduced stress and greater success in all areas of your life, book a Virtual Cuppa with me Today!