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How Thoughts Provoke Emotions And Consequent Behavioural Responses

thoughts Jul 02, 2021

Thoughts and emotions go together like bread and butter. Keeping your thoughts and emotions totally separate is just about impossible–inevitably, some things that you think about are going to create strong emotional responses and sparks from your body.

Sometimes these thoughts can provoke emotions that lead to behaviour responses. This is also natural–the way you think and feel absolutely informs your behaviors. Understanding these relationships can help you better identify and control certain unwanted behavioural responses.

What is an example of a thought provoking an emotional and behavioural response?

Take a moment to consider something you really want but don’t have. How do you feel about the fact that you don’t have that particular something?

If you’re feeling down about not having that particular something, then your thought has elicited an emotion within you–perhaps longing, sadness, or jealousy over someone who does have what you want.

These emotional responses can lead to behavioral responses. For example, you could decide to take action and splurge on the item, if it is something tangible that can be purchased.

Alternatively, you may choose to wallow in sadness and mope about not being able to have the something you desire. If you know someone who already has what you want, you may allow your jealousy to dictate how you treat them when you spend time with them.

This situation follows the following pattern:

  1. You have a thought (“I wish I had that brand-new car”).
  2. The thought conjures some kind of emotional response (“Jane just bought that new car I want, and that makes me feel so jealous”).
  3. Your emotional responses affect your behaviours (The next time you see Jane, you give them short responses and treat them coldly).

 How can someone break the cycle of allowing emotional responses to cause unwanted behaviours?

It’s often perceived to be difficult to change behaviour reactions, but it is completely possible with dedication and practice!

As mentioned above, there is a pattern to how a thought leads to an emotional response, and then how the emotional response leads to a behavioural response. To get yourself out of this cycle, you must learn how to interrupt and then break the chain of this pattern.

The chain you need to break looks like this:

  1. You have a thought.
  2. The thought conjures an emotional response.
  3. The emotional response leads to some kind of unwanted behaviour.

To break this chain, consider this alternative pattern of action:

  1. You have a thought.
  2. The thought conjures an emotional response.
  3. *You take a moment to acknowledge and recognise the emotional response you’re having.
  4. *You choose to change your thoughts.
  5. *You change the emotion.

This alternative pattern will take time and practice to master. To develop this habit, start with baby steps and develop it further as your comfort level increases.

Here is an example of this pattern playing out with the new car example from the above:

  1. You have a thought: “I wish I had that new car.”
  2. Your thought causes an emotional response: “Jane just got that car, and that makes me feel so jealous.”
  3. You take a moment to acknowledge and recognise the emotional response you’re having: “When I keep thinking about this new car, it makes me feel jealous over Jane’s hard work and efforts to save money for their sports car.”
  4. You choose to change your thoughts: “I bet if I work hard, I can also save money to buy that sports car, too. Maybe I can ask them for some money saving tips.”
  5. You change the emotion: “I’m excited to have a plan of action that can actually help me get the car I want.”

Learning to divert difficult emotions takes time, but this pattern will help you avoid unwanted behaviours and replace them with healthier, more positive ones over time.