Programme: Learning to think differently

6. Thoughts influence your behaviour

Sometimes it can seem as though thoughts and behaviour (or ‘thinking and acting’) are completely separate. We all have moments when our attention is not really focused on our actions -  for instance, we pour milk into our coffee and then put the cup back in the fridge and the milk on the table. Many of the things we do are automatic. We do them without even thinking about it. Most of the time, though, our thoughts and our behavior are well connected. That’s why it is difficult to do more than two things at once. Recent studies have shown that we are not as good at multitasking as we might like to think!

We repeat behaviour throughout the day without giving it much thought. We are often unaware of the thoughts that are directing our behaviour because these actions have become automatic.

However, if you want to change your behaviour or learn new behaviour, you will need to learn how to recognise your thoughts as well as your emotions and your behaviour.

For example: You want to take part in the Groningen Four Mile, a running race that takes place each year in the city of Groningen. The race is open to anyone who wants to compete. It’s a great fun race and all your friends will be taking part. But you are not particularly fit, and you don’t feel confident that you’ll be able to finish the course. Your friends promise to help you to train so that you can do it, and they are so encouraging that you start to believe that you can do it, after all. The big day arrives and you manage to complete the race successfully. You reached your goal. How did this happen? Your mind was changed by the environment surrounding you. At first, you thought you were not up to this challenge. But other people assured you that you were, and you started to believe it yourself. Your thoughts started to change, and in the end you successfully completed the running race. Of course, thinking is not the same as doing; your thoughts had to train pretty hard for this race, too. But the more you believe something is possible, the greater your chance of success.

We all experience different thoughts during the course of the day. Some of these thoughts are significant, whilst others are insignificant. The important thoughts influence what we do, so they determine our behaviour. These thoughts are often about ourselves and how we think about ourselves, but they may also be about other people and life in general.

Reflect & connect

Answer these questions with your online psychologist and/or a friend:

1. Can you think of some times when you have noticed that your thoughts have influenced your behaviour?

2. What thoughts have a positive effect on your behaviour?

3. What thoughts have a negative effect on your behaviour?

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