The foundation of cognitive behavioral theory is simple. What we think affects how we feel, and how we feel drives what we do. Let’s say you had a really stressful day and when you’re home alone with your thoughts you tell yourself, “This day was horrible, and made me so stressed out. I feel exhausted and irritable.”
What happens next?
You may feel physical sensations in your body. Your chest may feel tight and constricted. You may feel tingly or numb. You may experience a stomach ache, headache or other aches and pains. You may feel as if you’re buzzing and can’t relax.
So what do you do next?
If you feel on edge, you may reach for something to calm you. Maybe it’s food. Or alcohol. Or drugs. Or calling that person who isn’t good for you but you figure some attention is better than none. Maybe you overeat or don’t eat at all. Maybe you drink too much and end up feeling sick the next day. Maybe you take drugs and regret what you do while “not yourself.” Maybe you exercise, but overdo it. Maybe you call a friend and then feel bad that you dumped a bunch of negative complaining in their ears. Maybe you’re rude and impatient with your loved ones.
If you feel physical pain, maybe you pop a bunch of pain killers for relief. And if those don’t work, you spend hours suffering and now your attention is steered away from the stressful day you had and toward worrying about your health. You pray there’s not something really wrong. Then you think maybe I should make a doctor’s appointment. Then you start worrying about how much it will cost, and if you really want to go through the stress of a doctor’s office visit. So you postpone it, but the underlying worry persists.
Then you have trouble falling asleep. You may still be worrying about your health, and trying to grit through the pain. You may be rummaging through your lists of regrets. You may be feeling sad, and try to push that feeling away or cry without relief. You may be worrying if everything will be okay because you secretly don’t believe well-meaning people who assure you it will. You may be stuck in a loop of fearful thoughts. What if I get sick? What if I’m dying? What if my loved one gets sick and dies? Why doesn’t this person like me? Do they like me? Why don’t they show me they care? Am I doing a good enough job at work? Is my job in jeopardy? Why do I keep making this same mistake? What’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with them? Why am I remembering this old memory right now?
And it can go on and on and on.
Self-awareness and introspection are powerful self-care guides to shift this anxious pattern. Think about the times you’ve engaged in something you regretted. Maybe you overindulged in something, or said something hurtful to someone you loved, or felt foolish in a romantic relationship. Do you remember what you were thinking beforehand? Do you remember what beliefs you had about the situation, yourself and/or the other person? Do you remember how you felt?
The more you question your behavior, the more you will understand the hidden thoughts and beliefs driving it. If you want to overcome procrastination, develop more patience, improve relationships, gain more confidence and see-love, start asking yourself what do I really believe about myself and this situation? What are my fears? What do I hope to gain? Is my behavior supporting what I’m telling myself I want? And if not, is what I’ve been telling myself I want, really what I want or am I trying to fill a gap in my heart with this single vision?
Lots of people find journaling really helpful. If you feel you can use more insights, try an inspirational card deck like Melodie Beattie’s Language of Letting Go cards. Shuffle the deck and draw one, two or three cards. Ask yourself what the messages mean to you. What comes to mind? What situation may it be pertaining to? Then start writing down your thoughts as they come to you. Take a moment to read your thoughts back to yourself. Then see if you can think of a different, more helpful perspective about the situation. Consider any positive changes you can make, take note of any ah-ha ideas. Write down the positive aspects about the situation, and yourself. Include thoughts that give you hope.
And please, don’t strive for perfection with this. Strive for joy, peace, more happiness. Strive for understanding yourself better so you can better understand how to love yourself a little more each day.
Certified Cognitive Behavioral Coach