Cognitive Behaviour therapy (CBT) is often characterised, wrongly by those who are not very familiar with it as just changing how you think about something. The usually criticism is that thinking is not the same as feeling and it is ‘my feelings’ (emotions) that are the real problem. This is a pretty poor criticism because CBT is really all about changing how you feel. Indeed, any decent therapist is focused on changing how you feel because emotions are the ultimate drivers of your behaviour. They are never alone however so it is always worth having an appreciation of how thoughts and feelings work together in combination to create your present emotional state.
Beliefs are predispositions to action
I often see that beliefs are predispositions to action. If you hold a strong belief then that is like a coiled spring of potential action. It readies you to do whatever your belief dictates is appropriate. But the actual driver of any action is the emotion associated with that belief. The emotion provides the motive power for the action you need to take. Emotions have power. When you feel angry don’t you feel liking doing something to satisfy the anger? Likewise when you feel down don’t you act in line with how you feel about yourself or what is happening in your life? In depression, for example, you may feel like doing less or withdrawing from things and that feeling drives inactivity etc.
It is apparent that there is a two way flow between beliefs and emotions. In reality it is impossible to always state which happens first, the belief or the emotion but the fact that they are linked does give us an opportunity to change things if we need to. We see that the meaning something has for us is undeniably connected to any emotions we may have about that thing. Cognitive events’ (thoughts, images, beliefs, assumptions etc) are irrevocably linked to emotions; sensations, feelings, intuitions. And these drive any direct or indirect action that may happen as a consequence of the belief – feeling chain. Everything in life can go in several different directions. You can be fitter or less fit. You can be optimistic or pessimistic, you can be relatively healthy or unhealthy; you can be more or less wealthy. These things are on a continuum from one extreme end of the spectrum to the other.
If you want to make any change in your life then, at the very least, you have to engage the belief-feeling chain and then make something REAL happen. This is achieved by the action outcome and it completes the circle comprised of the belief - feeling = action chain and it is the final act needed to change something or do something different.
Belief – feeling = action
Action requires motivation and this is in part a belief and in part a feeling. We need to engage both of these systems to create the action outcome we desire. The belief is more or less the ability to recognise that you can achieve something, that you have the resources to do it, and that it is within your repertoire of things you can do. Of course you can imagine many things you are unable to do. You can fantasise that you are twenty years younger. This is certainly possible to imagine but you cannot make it happen. And so we can put that into a category of desires that are not physically achievable and leave it there. Those who don’t recognise their inability to make impossible things happen populate reality TV shows. The belief that you can achieve something is the first step. You may hold the belief that you can achieve good mood or freedom from anxiety. You may not know how you will do it but the belief is valid because it is within the normal human repertoire of actions. It does not violate the laws of physics. This belief has to become a desire that is strong enough to generate some emotions around it. This belief has the ability to create feelings of longing and determination. The emotions of dissatisfaction can also be used to create a battery of energy that can be used to push forward a new way of doing things.
Now comes the action; you have to use the belief as the compass – directing your actions towards what you need to achieve. Then allow the feelings to push you forward with a greater sense of certainty towards actions. This may sound a little technical but consider this simple illustration.
You are dissatisfied with your low mood and you want to feel better. Thinking about it more you realize that you are stuck in a rut and that is contributing to your low mood. You believe you can achieve more so you generate a little anger over the loss of things you previously had and could do. This creates a determination to make some changes. So you resolve to simply do something different NOW today and in that moment of decision you embody the whole process of meaningful action. You have actually made something different happen and that has changed your experience forever.
This is of course a discreet example but one that can be repeated again and again. And the action or repetition is the key to sustained change. Do something once and that is all well and good but it will not create lasting change. But do something repetitively and you create whatever you want to create. You take control over the future you desire and bring it into manifestation in your life. This is the most powerful strategy there is and I hope you can see why. It is because you are crafting your ongoing experience like a road builder laying road on virgin territory. You make things look as you wish them to. Nothing is more powerful than that.