You’re listening to episode two. Today I'm talking about the root cause of your emotions. When you know the real reason, you feel how you do; it's a game-changer when it comes to understanding your habits. Let's dive in.
Welcome to Habits On Purpose, a podcast for high-achieving women who want to create lifelong habits and feel as good on the inside as they look on paper. You'll get practical strategies for mindset shifts that will help you finally understand the root causes of why you think, feel, and act as you do so you can learn to create habits that give more than they take, and now, here's your host physician and certified life coach Kristi Angevine.
Hello. Hi there. Today I'm going to talk to you about the relationship between the way you think, feel, and behave. I'll explain how thinking relates to habits and how and why to cultivate the skill of being aware of your thoughts, and I'll end the episode with three concrete ways to start paying closer attention to what you're thinking. My hope is to convince you that any efforts to design deliberate habits require you to pay attention to how you feel and why.
Now, when most people hear the word habit, what comes to mind are good habits or bad habits. In particular, they think about things like behaviors or lack of certain behaviors, exercise, eating well, procrastinating, leaving work at work. The angle of today will be to take two or three steps back from the behaviors themselves. We're stepping back to the emotions that precede the habituated behaviors and behind that to the root cause of the emotions themselves.
Now, my office where I record this is off of my kitchen, and since starting this podcast, I have had an acute awareness of the sounds in my house that I can hear in my office. The water kettle, the microwave, the little rolling stool he uses to go to the kitchen sink to wash his hands. So, while I have this amazing sound production team that makes sure the sound quality is technically as good as possible. Controlling my environment is my job, and I want this podcast to be easy for you to listen to.
Now, the old me would have been losing my mind with every noise in the background. I would interpret every errant noise as a huge problem. I would avoid it until everyone was gone to record, or I would get up at three in the morning to make sure no one was up, and this is actually kind of funny since I don't really think any of the same things about errant noises in the podcast that I listen to.
So, the new me, although I'm aware of the sounds, I'm not flustered by them. In fact, a big part of what I'm going to model for you is what it looks like to show up without perfectionism. How it's possible to do it without sacrificing high standards or doing shotty mediocre work or getting devoured by a saber tooth tiger, and here is how this relates to today's topic.
The only reason that I currently feel at ease recording this, when I can at this very moment hear the den of my family right outside of the door, is because of how I think about the noise. The old perfectionistic me would have had the thought this has to be done with pure silence; otherwise, it's absolutely unacceptable. They're going to hate it. They're going to hate me. It won't be as good as so and so's.
I would then feel anxious and pressured, and I would not have thought twice about stewing about the noise or rearranging my whole day to ensure that it was library level quiet. But my current thought is, of course, there are real-life sounds in the background and a real person in a real house. I'm not a voiceover actor in a sound booth. If they hear a little something, it's not a big deal. If it's a big disruption, I will just rerecord it later.
When I think that, I feel calm and a matter of fact. And that feeling drives me to get to work despite the reality of three humans getting themselves ready to go to work 15 feet away. So, what's the root cause of how I feel when I'm recording?
It's my thoughts. Your thoughts the way you think are the cause of your emotions, and this matters when it comes to your habits because why do we do what we do? Our behaviors come from how we feel. So, to understand behavioral habits, you must understand the common feelings and the routine thoughts behind those behaviors.
Now, even if you aren't a coach or a therapist, you've probably heard this idea before. The relationship between thoughts and emotions and behaviors is described in ancient texts and is a main tenant in cognitive-behavioral and positive psychology. You've probably noticed how this plays out when for example, you're talking to a friend who's freaking out about something that to you doesn't seem like a big deal at all.
When you interpret the situation differently than they do, you feel differently and act differently about the same set of circumstances. While your friend may be venting and ruminating about it. You don't. Why? Because you feel differently about it. Why? Because you have different thoughts about it. What I'm going to do today is elaborate on this simple yet fundamental idea so you can appreciate what a powerful impact it can have when you explicitly integrate it into your life.
The one single thing that I want you to take away from this episode, even if you stop listening right at this moment, is that the reason we act as we act and have the habits we do is because of how we feel. The reason we feel how we feel is because of how we think. Despite how we usually frame things, emotions are not caused by external circumstances or by other people. Our emotions come from how we are thinking.
Therefore the thoughts we think the narratives we have in our mind are like seeds in which our emotions and thus our behavioral habits grow. In short, thoughts cause feelings. Feelings drive what we do. So, habituated thoughts drive habituated actions. Now, in a moment, I'll get to exactly how this works and what it means for your day-to-day experience. But before we do, let's define a couple of things and make a really important distinction.
When I talk about thoughts, I'm literally referring to the sentences in your mind. Sentences like, today's going to be a good day or that was ridiculous. I can't believe they said that, or I love this, or she should not be doing it like that. Thoughts are literally words with punctuation that form phrases and sentences in our minds.
Now, let's define emotions. Emotions are the words we use to label how we feel in our bodies. Emotions are things like anxious, sad, angry, happy, heartbroken, forlorn, stunned, frustrated. In contrast, feelings are the physical sensations that result in our bodies after we think a thought. Feelings are things like a tight ball in the throat, tense shoulders, butterflies in your stomach, redhot pressure in your abdomen, constriction, a lightness.
An emotion like nervousness or excitement might feel like buzzing or butterflies in my stomach. An emotion like shame might feel like a sharp, heavy pick or weight. Now, for the important distinction, there are basic primitive, visceral, physical sensations, and reflexive responses that are not the same as emotions. A startle response after hearing a loud noise, the rush of adrenaline after tripping and catching yourself, feeling really queasy, or fainting at the sight of blood.
Rapid physical sensations like pain, pleasure, startle, fight, flight, freeze, appease that happen before conscious thought is beyond the scope of what we're discussing today. Today is for the feelings we label as emotions and the root causes of these kinds of feelings. Now, usually, if we go through the world, feelings seem like they're caused by things outside of us. What someone says to us, a score we get on a test, someone forgetting to call us on our birthday, the number of things in your inbox or on your to-do list.
As kids, we grew up hearing, did so, and so hurt your feelings? The message was, outside circumstances, what other people say and do cause emotions and feelings. So, let's unpack this a little. Consider scoring 85% on a test. One person feels exuberant, and another feels shame; another feels matter of fact. Why the different feelings with the same score? If you ask each person why they feel that way, they'll see the score itself.
Why do you feel shame? I got an 85. I should have done better. There must be something wrong with me? Why do you feel exuberant? I got an 85! It's amazing, I didn't think I could pull it off, but I did. Why do you feel a matter of fact? I got an 85. It's pretty much what I expected, no big deal. But if the score itself was the real cause for how everyone felt, everyone would feel the same with that same score.
The actual explanation of the different feelings comes from the fact that it's the interpretation of the score that invokes the different feelings. So, when we feel proud, it's not because of the score or the accomplishment itself is like an elixir that jumps into our body that makes us feel that feeling. It's because of what we think and believe about the score.
The shame comes from thinking I should have done better. There's something wrong with me. The exuberance from I didn't think I could pull it off, but I did! The matter of fact, from thinking, it's pretty much what I expected. The key here is the only reason for the emotional variance is because each person has a different interpretation of the score.
That interpretation, that story, literally the thoughts they think, are the root causes for why they feel they do. And the fascinating thing about the habituated thoughts we have is that the repeated ways we think, they make up our general mindset. This mindset has been uniquely shaped by a myriad of factors, genetics, our family, culture, decades of socialization, reinforced messages and rules that we've adopted, our personal experiences, and the context or meaning that we gave to those personal experiences.
Let me give you another example of how the way you think creates how you feel. Think back to a time when you planned and looked forward to a vacation. You know that excitement, that anticipation, the vision of fun, relaxation, or picturing the adventure, or romance or unplugging, whatever. Then, you get to your vacation destination, the weather is great. The accommodations are amazing, but something feels off.
It's not actually as great as you hoped. It should feel wonderful. On the outside, it looks amazing, but you feel cranky or irritable, frustrated, preoccupied, or distracted. Now, conversely, imagine you're so looking forward to your vacation, and you get there, and the weather is not great. The accommodations are awful. The WiFi fails, your partner is cranky, your kids are hellions, and yet, you end up having a great time.
You're amused; you feel light; you have fun. Or you feel just plain happy, even amongst circumstances that would be very easy to feel irritated in. So, how can we have a vacation that feels awful when things look great or feels fun when things are like a comedy of observed errors. It always comes down to whatever it is your thinking in the moment.
Maybe you have heard that Adam Sandler skit at Saturday Night Live? It's called Romano Tours. If you haven't seen it, you should just go Google it and watch it right now. Adam Sandler plays Joe Romano, and he and his family's tour business takes people to Italy. In the skit, he clarifies what his tours can and cannot do for people, and he says this in an obviously much funnier way than I can, but as you listen to what he says, just imagine him saying it instead of me.
He goes on to say, he says, people love us, but every so often, the customer leaves a review, and they were disappointed, or they didn't have as much fun as they thought. So, here at Romano Tours, we always remind our customers if you're sad now, you might still feel sad there, okay? Do you understand? Does that make sense?
Our tours will take you to the most beautiful places on earth, but you're still going to be you on vacation. If you were sad before you go to Italy, and then you get on a plane in Italy, the you in Italy will be the same sad you. You'll be the same sad you from before, just in a new place. And everyone laughed because we all get it. The reason for it is because what you think creates how you feel.
You are the same you in Italy because you bring your thoughts with you. We also see it on the opposite side of the coin, where something that could classically be seen as devastatingly awful is experienced as uplifting or transformative. Like, a cancer diagnosis, losing a job, ending a relationship. Now, I want to be clear, when I first learned this concept, and I got it intellectually.
What you think creates how you feel. How you feel drives what you do. If I think, oh, no, there's too much to do. I then feel overwhelmed, and when I'm overwhelmed, I run my mental to-do list and flit about not actually being very effective about getting things done. When I think this is hard, but I got this. Bring it. I feel determined, and I focus, and I actually get to work.
When I think something like, I'm an idiot. I cannot believe I did that. I then feel discouraged, or I feel shame. When I feel that way, I shut down; I ruminate on the negative. So, intellectually it's super logical, and yet, on a more basic level in my lived experience, I still believed that things outside of me were the real cause of my feelings.
Especially when it came to other people, what they did would drive me bonkers. What so and so said to me, maybe her tone, the look on her face, it made me feel horrible, but what changed it for me was realizing that I felt the same way about several different people. You can essentially copy and paste their faces, and I felt nearly identically about them—the same for several different sets of circumstances. I had nearly the same emotional response.
So, it wasn't the individual or the situation itself. It was my thinking. When I had similar thoughts, I had similar feelings. So, the way it helps me to conceptualize this is that the people and the situations are like a book of matches, and the way I thought about them was the thing that lit the match and set off the firework or the dynamite. Someone else could be around the same people and feel differently because they didn't light the damn match or if they did, they lit a candle and not an explosive.
Now, this way of understanding feelings is totally counter-intuitive. It flies in the face of how we usually experience the world and how we were taught. We were taught that external circumstances are the cause of how we feel. Other people and their actions are the reason we feel like we do. The degree, the award, our job, the amount of money in our bank account, where we live, what our house looks like, what other people think of us, that creates our feelings and our ultimate experience.
Now, this paradigm of outside things causing our feelings would be fine if there wasn't a downside to it. But the problem it creates when we think things outside of us or other people create our feelings is our experience is dictated by things outside of us that are beyond our control. We're essentially batted around by reality, and if that's the case, then what do we do if we want to feel better?
If we see these external things as the cause, then it's logical to think that we have to change these things outside of us in order to ever feel better. We have to make other people behave differently, avoid them, change jobs, go on a trip, move, buy things, to feel better, or to feel differently. And this explains the arrival fallacy, where we think once we get a goal or we get to a destination, we'll feel perpetually content and satisfied.
When in truth, it's never the destination. It's how we're thinking when we're there that determines how we feel. So, the way we interpret things and think about things determines how we feel, but most of the time, we're not aware of our thoughts, so what do we do with that? First of all, this lack of awareness is completely normal, and it's frankly beneficial.
It's said there are somewhere between 40 to 60 thousand sentences or phrases that cross our minds every day. And if we were conscious of all of them, it would be hard to get out of bed, much less leave the house. A lot of these thoughts are actually redundant, and in a future episode, we'll talk more about how we can approach these redundancies, but for now, suffice it to say awareness is a skill. It's a skill that comes with practice.
Now, when you're a busy, productive, perhaps over busy person, used to hustling and go, go, go, you might not even know what your thoughts sound like, or if you are if you're like most of us, your thoughts may just seem like observations of the world. Like, it's Wednesday, the skies are blue. It's 57 degrees. I'm a doctor. I cannot believe that happened like that. I don't have enough time. I'm not really that good at my job, and they might find out.
If this is you, you are not alone. When I first came to this work, I didn't really notice how to notice my own thoughts, definitely not consistently. I could do a laparoscopic hysterectomy, and I could deliver babies, but noticing my thoughts was like learning an entirely new language. What I'll offer you is what helped me.
Is to think of thoughts as simply sentences in your mind. Now, it's an oversimplification of the incredible complexity of what brains do, but I like to keep it simple and think of our brains as sentence-making organs. The pancreas makes insulin. Brains make sentences. Brains have a news ticker running, and this news ticker can be like white noise you don't notice, but once you tune in and start trying to pay attention, you will notice it.
In just a moment, I’ll tell you a few ways you can do this, but first, why is it such an important skill? Time is precious. There are experiences to be had, work to be done, systemic bureaucratic dysfunction to reform, and problems to solve. Why spend time thinking about your thinking? The reason this is so vitally important is knowing what we're thinking helps understand why we feel the way we do and this, in turn, helps explain why we do what we do.
So, if you want to understand your habits, you have to start with understanding your thoughts and feelings that drive your habits. Picture yourself opening your phone to scroll when you're bored or stressed when your plan was maybe to read or spend time with your kids or maybe just go to sleep. One way to change this habit is to set a screentime locker or hide your phone or go for a walk instead.
But the reason for the boredom or the stress in the first place would still be there because the reason lies in something you're thinking. So, to truly change how you respond to things to change the feelings you have requires going to the root cause of why you feel as you do, which is always your thinking. So, all of this to say, what you think matters.
It's the real reason you feel everything. What you feel matters because it's the root cause for why you do what you do. This is actually great news since the way we feel comes from what we think, and nothing outside of us creates our emotions. Not what other people do, not the events in the news, not someone showing up late, not the messes in your house, not someone else's success, not what someone thinks of us or says to us.
We feel as we do because of what we are thinking. So, while there are many, many things we cannot control, where we do have more control is in our thinking. So, let's summarize, thoughts cause feelings. Habits are the repetitive ways we think, feel, and act. Thoughts cause feelings, feelings drive actions, repetitive thoughts are at the heart of repetitive actions.
So, if you take your brain to Italy or to a new job, it will still have its same thoughts in a new location. Now, in a future episode, we'll discuss in-depth all the way you can misuse this concept against yourself, but unless you start flirting with doing this now, I'm going to give you a little heads up. When you start owning or taking responsibility for how you feel or it coming from how you're thinking from this inside, it's easy to sometimes slip into blaming or judging yourself for every negative emotion or every habit you don't like.
Now, if this was an effective technique, that would be fine, but it's actually counterproductive. Or, on the other end of the spectrum, you consider you can choose your thoughts; you might erroneously conclude that means you should aim to feel positively 100% of the time. I will just offer you that we are humans. We are not computers or automatons, and as humans, we get to have the whole range of rich emotions, even the messy and the painful ones.
The other way this concept is often misused is when you absorb the idea that external circumstances are not the root cause for how you're feeling or for your emotion, you could conclude that you should stay in situations that you loathe because you should be able to strongarm yourself into tolerating it just by managing your mind. Now, I have done all of these, and so many of my clients have as well. So, we will cover them more later, in a later episode, but for now, just consider yourself warned and keep your eyes open for doing this yourself.
So, now what? Since the way we think creates how we feel, how can we start paying close attention to what you're thinking and feeling, especially if it's not something you do often? Noticing your thoughts is just a skill, and like any other, you practice it, and with time it gets easier. So, here are three ways you can start doing it right now.
Number one, take time a few times a day and ask yourself, how am I feeling right now? What emotion would I label this feeling as? Is it frustrated, calm, angry, incompetent, hairy? Then, ask yourself, what am I thinking right now that's making me feel that?
Number two, take a few minutes every day and write down your thoughts, and go back and review them. Look at a couple of the sentences and ask yourself, when I think that, how do I feel?
Number three, in the opposite direction, you can write down your feelings about an experience and ask yourself, what might I be thinking that would make me feel that particular feeling? Sometimes it helps to imagine an alternative emotion or a friend who's gone through a similar situation but maybe feels totally different, and imagine what might they be thinking that would give them that alternate emotion?
Then, you can get a sense of what you might actually be thinking that gives you that emotion or feeling in your experience, and that's it. Pick one of these three approaches and take five or ten minutes a day and just pay close attention to your thinking or trace your feelings back to the sentences in your mind.
Now, is this fast? No, not usually. Is it glamorous? Oh, no, this is tedious work. But it's highly effective, and it's the foundation for all the mindset work that goes into living life with intention. What I want you to really let sink in is the reason we have any habit is because of how we're feeling, and the reason we feel anything is because our thoughts create our emotions. And yes, it's very counterintuitive, but it's not the things outside of you that create how you feel.
Additionally, thoughts are responsible for negative and neutral emotions as well as the positive ones, we create our own overwhelm and frustration, but we also create our own calm and joy, fun, ease, delight. It's not the things outside of us that create them. It's what we are thinking. The outside world, I think of it as an ocean in which we're swimming. It influences how we feel, but it's not the cause.
And as you absorb this, remember, just because our thoughts are the cause, and just because we get to decide what to think, does not mean there's something noble or enlightened about always thinking things that make us feel positive. It also doesn't mean that we stay in a set of circumstances that we don't like, just to prove we can manage our thoughts or find neutral or positive headspace there.
And there's zero upsides when ownership of your thinking morphs into blame and self-judgment. The only thing that matters when it comes to this concept is that what you think matters a lot because it's what's making you feel how you do, and those feelings are what are driving all of your habits. And the fun part of this that once you're aware of your thinking, you can start looking at how it is and how it isn't useful to you.
If it's not useful, where might it have come from? How might it have been useful in a different set of circumstances? How might it have been useful in a different time? Is it something that warrants questioning? Knowing what you now know today? And just because you're thinking it, you don't necessarily have to keep thinking it or believe it just because it auto-populates into your mind.
Brains offer lots of sentences, and many of them seem true, but there's no rule that you have to blindly believe everything your brain offers even if it's familiar, and that's what I've got for you today. Have so much fun noticing how you're feeling and noticing that mental ticker of a news feed in your mind this week, and I will see you in the next episode.
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Thanks for listening to Habits on Purpose. If you want more information on Kristi Angevine or the resources from the podcast, visit habitsonpurpose.com. Tune in next week for another episode.