Sunday, January 20, 2008

Power of Thought

I place a lot of emphasis in my treatment approach in helping the client understand their thinking patterns. As you can see from the model, the application of this emphasis is the concept “thinking errors.” I will return to this in a future blog. To do so, I need to first discuss the power of thought. I use three books as resources for the background on how powerful our thoughts are. If you want to read more, please read Slowing Down to the Speed of Life by Carlson and Bailey, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (yeah, that’s his name, he’s Czech), and Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcom Gladwell.

For the sake of the conversation, I need to reduce and simplify the implication of their theories. To fully understand the material, I recommend additional discussion and review of the material. In essence, all awareness and knowledge are based on perceptions and through the analysis of these perceptions we arrive at a thought that guides are feelings, choices and behaviors. This is a bit different from how many people think. Often, we hold that feelings come first. Yet, consider the following scenarios.

1) You parked your car on the street. As you return from the store, you find that your car is gone. The awareness is that your car is missing. The feelings are derived from that conclusions based on various thoughts. Depending on additional thoughts, your feelings might be different, so consider the following.

a. You’ve been reading the news paper about how many cars have been stolen in the neighborhood. The thought that percolates to your awareness is that “My car is stolen” and you’ll probably have feelings associated with that thought, such as feeling violated and/or angry.

b. As an alternative, you notice a “No parking sign” during high traffic/rush hours. And you happened to park your car just before that time began, and returned to find you car gone. The thought might be “My car has been towed.” Notice, however, your feelings are different based on the thought. You might feel angry, or embarrassed, or shame because I should have known better.

c. Consider a third possibility such that you come out of the store talking on your cell phone. As you get to where you parked the car, you realize it is gone. As you think “My car is gone” with the complementing thoughts, you notice that 6 cars up is your car. Because you were distracted, you went to the wrong car. The corresponding feelings might be embarrassment, relief, and/or humor as you realize how much you overacted.

2) These three examples help explain how thoughts shape your feelings and subsequent behaviors. Gladwell highlights how much of our thought is actually automatic and can occur in the “Blink” of an eye (hence the title of his book). Sometimes our thoughts and reactions are so automatic that we simply don’t realize how many different thoughts we had in a particular moment. Not true, you say? Think about how many complicated tasks, thoughts, and attention to stimuli occurs while you are driving a car. Yet, you never truly “think” about driving a car. You simply “drive.”

The application in treating sexual compulsivity is to help clients realize how ritualized the acting out process is for many people. Too many times I hear from a client “I don’t know how this happened.” My response “I believe you, and the process of therapy is to help slow down the thoughts.” In the next blog I will highlight the concept of thinking errors. The concept is a direct application of the power of thought to the acting out cycle.

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