We Feel the Way We Think

This is the fundamental principle in cognitive therapy. You may already have noticed that the way you feel at any moment depends on what you are thinking about. This is why when we distract ourselves, our problems take a back seat—for a while, until we start thinking about them again. I described this principle in the first episode of my podcast, Peace at Last! In that episode, I explained how many pioneers of the field discovered it. Not only was it part of the history of psychology, but long before, it was also discovered by the Stoics of Ancient Greece and by the Buddha. Today, we can benefit from that long lineage of precursors and use tools that have been developed over generations to change the way we feel.

principles of therapy

Changing the Way We Think

This is the good news. Because there’s a direct cause-and-effect link from thinking to feeling, if we can change our thinking then we can change our emotions as a result. It is a choice available to all of us at every moment. We just don’t always realize that we have that choice. Did you ever notice that everything you do in life is in order to feel certain emotions and in order to avoid other emotions? I eat chocolate because I want to feel some pleasure in my taste buds and to alleviate boredom. I call a friend because I want to feel the connection and escape a feeling of loneliness. I do the dishes because I want the satisfaction of having a clean kitchen and avoid the disturbance of the chore hanging over my head. Some people even go as far as saying that seeking pleasure is not even a driver of our behavior, but that moving away from discomfort always is. The trouble is, manipulating our environment does not always work to relieve us—and even when it does, that satisfaction does not last. Wherever we end up with our actions, we also take ourselves along. It is only by changing what we think—really, what we believe—that we can find lasting contentment.

These principles, and more are described in handouts freely available under Handouts.