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How Your Thoughts Influence Your Emotions

The average person thinks 6200 thoughts every single day. That’s about 258 thoughts an hour or 4.3 thoughts a minute. That is a lot of thinking. But here’s the real important thing about that: your thoughts have incredible power over your life. Thoughts are what ultimately influence the relationships we have, the decisions we make, and the actions we take. And perhaps most important of all: your thoughts influence your emotions.

This is good news, because:

  • If you can learn to control your thoughts, you can have more control over your emotions.
  • You can learn to control your thoughts.

Realizing how your thoughts influence your emotions, and learning what to do with that information, can help you create positive change in your life so you can design and live a life you love.

Thought vs. emotion

I’ve seen people use “thoughts” and “emotions” virtually interchangeably: they believe that what they think about something is also how they feel about it. 

Sometimes, there can be some overlap between thoughts and emotions. But there are distinct differences between the two concepts that we cannot ignore. 

Thoughts are cognitive. Feelings are emotional.

We can usually make fairly logical sense of our thoughts; there is often a clear a+b=c quality to them. Feelings, however, are not so cut-and-dry. The same event may make two people feel two completely different things. Because that’s true, there’s no clear line between the evidence and the conclusion when it comes to feelings.

Thoughts are sentences. Feelings are words.

Not sure if you’re thinking or feeling? Try creating a sentence starting with “I feel ….” If you can finish that sentence with a single word, then it is probably a feeling. If it takes longer to explain, or if you have to say “I feel like…” in order to get the idea across, then it is probably a thought.

For example:

Thought: I want to order pizza for dinner tonight.
Feeling: I am hungry. 

Thought: I should really go to bed. It’s 11:00!
Feeling: I am tired.

Thought: I feel like I offended you.
Feeling: I am sorry.

Thoughts are not as accurate or primal as feelings.

Clearly, humans think a lot. In fact, many of us (myself included) are chronic overthinkers. We try to explain our internal processes instead of allowing ourselves to just…feel what we’re feeling. But feelings really get to the heart of the matter. It’s our feelings that reveal our truest selves.

Take the last example from above:

Thought: I feel like I offended you.
Feeling: I am sorry.

Which is a more poignant and meaningful expression? The first sounds like you’re still trying to figure something out. You think they might be offended…but were they? Did you actually offend them? The second sends a clear and concise message about how you’re feeling. It doesn’t really matter if they were offended or not; you feel sorry. 

If we can tap into our emotions, we get a more accurate picture of ourselves and our current state. 

These differences between thoughts and emotions are important to understand, because once you do, it will be easier to see how your thoughts can influence your emotions.

How your thoughts influence your emotions

Thoughts influence our emotions because thoughts interpret the world around us. Let’s break down how that happens.

From observation to thought

Every day, we are presented with information: the weather, the news, our environments, what’s in the fridge, how many emails are in our inboxes, etc.

Here’s the thing about this information: it is inherently neither bad nor good. 

Let’s say it’s raining outside. That might be a bad thing if it’s your wedding day and you had an outdoor ceremony planned. But it would be a good thing if you live somewhere that has been dealing with a severe drought.  

The point is that the rain itself doesn’t have a value to it. It’s just … rain. We assign value to it. That’s where our thoughts come in. 

We put our observations through a lens that is based on preference, experience, mood, timing, or any number of other factors.

Observation: It is raining.
Thought: We’ve been in a drought for so long. Rain is great!

There are a couple important things to note about this:

  1. The observation is a fact. It’s indisputable. No one can disagree with it. If it’s raining, it’s raining. A thought, on the other hand, is an opinion that someone else can disagree with.
  2. The thought is a thought—not a feeling. It’s logically thought out and is best expressed as full sentences.

From thought to feeling

Once we’ve had a thought about something, then we’re able to have feelings about it. 

Thoughts are the bridges between observations and feelings.

Some people don’t think that bridge is necessary. But whether you think it is or not, it’s there.

Let’s go back to the example about rain. In our example, rain after a drought might bring a feeling of relief.

Observation: It is raining.
Thought: We’ve been in a drought for so long. Rain is great!
Feeling: I feel relieved.

Now let’s look at a different example:

Observation: It is raining.
Thought: It’s my wedding day. This is terrible!
Feeling: I feel stressed.

Both of these examples are completely valid. Let’s try taking the “thought” line out of each example:

Observation: It is raining.
Feeling: I feel relieved.
Observation: It is raining.
Feeling: I feel stressed.

This is how our brains work most of the time. We think that the observation or circumstance is creating the feeling, without recognizing the invisible thought.

However, because the observation doesn’t change, and holds no intrinsic value, we know that there’s something missing here that would connect the dots between observation and feeling. Even if the thought isn’t stated, it’s implied.

One more example

Let’s say you open up your banking app on your phone to check your bank balance. There are $10 in your account. You start to feel panicked.

You might think that the panic is caused by the balance:

Observation: I have $10 in my bank account.
Feeling: I feel panicked.

But the truth is, there’s a thought that comes before the feeling. It could be things like:

I was supposed to get paid today. Why hasn’t my paycheck been deposited yet?
I thought my balance was much higher. What happened?
I have bills due tomorrow!

It’s thoughts like these that come before the panicked feeling—even if they come so quickly you aren’t aware of them. 

Consider some different thoughts you might have about having $10 in your account:

That’s what I was expecting.
Oh good, that refund came through.
Awesome, I thought for sure this account was overdrawn!

If those were the thoughts you had about your bank balance, would you still feel panicked? Probably not. You might feel appreciative, pleasantly surprised, or even relieved!

The observation didn’t change; the thought did. 

The ongoing cycle

Clearly, it’s not our external circumstances that influence our emotions. Our thoughts influence our emotions. 

Of course, thoughts and feelings can play off of each other. Your thoughts influence your emotions, and your emotions can reinforce your thoughts. Both can have an impact on your actions, which can then in turn inspire new thoughts as you experience the world in new ways.

You are a constantly changing and evolving being—and that’s a good thing!

Claiming power over your thoughts 

Like I said earlier, the good thing about your thoughts influencing your emotions is that you can control your thoughts. 

We’ve talked a lot about how to do this on our blog (see this post and this post for examples) but I want to go over some quick tips here.

  1. Catch the thought. Don’t allow yourself to believe that outward circumstances are dictating your emotions. Try to determine the thoughts that come after the observation and before the feeling.
  2. Choose what you want to think. If the thought you have about a circumstance isn’t helpful, or is taking you to an emotion you don’t enjoy, what thought would take you to a better place? 
  3. Replace the thought. Say your new thought out loud. Notice how it makes you feel.
  4. Notice thought patterns. Many of us think in similar ways over and over again. Our thoughts may tend toward positivity or negativity, self-assurance or self-doubt, optimism or cynicism, praise or criticism, etc. When you notice these thought patterns, you’ll be able to catch them more quickly, and hopefully, you’ll be able to change not just single thoughts, but entire unhealthy thought patterns as well.

(By the way, keep an eye out for our upcoming series on unhealthy thinking patterns! We are going to dive deep into why they are so powerful, what common unhealthy thinking patterns are, and what we can do about them. Stay tuned!)

Recognizing how your thoughts influence your emotions can play a big role in helping you create the reality you want to live. When you can change how you think, you can change how you feel. Want to feel happier, more purposeful, more at peace, and more centered? You can. It’s within your power.

Change your thoughts, and you can change your life. 

Learn to control your thoughts and create happy in your life.

Design.org can help. Start by taking our free assessment, and you’ll receive free coaching messages sent straight to your inbox, on your schedule.