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The Power of Thoughts

Change the way you think and you’ll change the way you behave


Our thoughts determine the choices we make - they establish our course of action. If we’re unhappy with a specific behavior, we need to examine (and change) the thoughts that lead us to choose that behavior. Simple enough.


But what are thoughts? What do they consist of? How do they appear in our mind and influence the choices we make? Once we answer these questions, we can more effectively change the way we think (and, by extension, the way we behave.)  


Let’s start with a very simple answer to the “what are thoughts” question. Our thoughts are made up of two primary parts: images and associations. First, images:  


It has been said: “Human beings think mostly in images.” And, as proof, the statement is usually followed up with a few words like: Spider, elephant, crawl, jump, etc. (The idea being; if you think of a “spider” you will see an image of a spider in your mind’s eye. If you think of a “crawling spider,” you’ll see a slightly different image and if you think of a “jumping spider,” you’ll see yet another image.) The spider you image in your mind won’t be exactly the same as the spider I see, but it’s safe to say that neither of us will see the image of a butterfly when we think of a spider.


Now to the second part; associations: (What does the spider mean?)


Though we’re likely to see a similar image when we think of a spider, our reaction to the image could be very different. Our reaction depends on what spiders mean to us as individuals. (It depends on what we’ve associated with the image of a spider.) In other words, if spiders represent something “creepy and dangerous” to you, the last thing you’ll want to hear is: “A giant spider is crawling up your leg.” (This statement will prompt an image in your mind and that image will prompt your association: “creepy and dangerous.” Fear, panic and swatting at your pant leg are almost sure to follow.) On the other hand, the statement: “A beautiful butterfly just landed on your hat” will probably be a lot less upsetting (unless of course butterflies freak you out too.)


Accepting this general idea, we can say that we assign meaning (associations) to the images we have stored in our mind. These images and associations make up our thoughts and, as such, they determine the course of action we choose. Alter them (images and associations) and our behavior will change. (Although images and associations work together, it’s the associations that really “move us” into action, so let’s look at them a little closer.)


Unlike the images that fill our minds, associations are very hard to visualize. They exist in our mind as a feeling, general understanding, or concept. For instance, consider the concepts of “right” and “wrong.” These are much harder to visualize than a spider or a butterfly. But if we see something that fits our understanding of right or wrong, we know it immediately. Example: If we witness a young man drowning a puppy, most of us would associate the young man’s actions with our concept of “wrong.” I’m guessing many of us would feel compelled to do the “right” thing: intervene (perhaps violently) on the puppy’s behalf.


When it comes to what we choose to do (or choose NOT to do) it’s our associations that drive us. Right / wrong, safe / unsafe, true / untrue, desirable / undesirable, etc.; whatever we associate with these terms will be sought or avoided automatically. Unfortunately, when our mind holds images / associations that are fundamentally flawed, we make bad choices and suffer the consequences. When we correct these flawed thoughts, the choices we make (and the results we get) will change. It really IS that simple.


So, images and associations are what our thoughts are made of. (Sure, this might be somewhat of a simplification, but the concept is very useful when it comes to changing how we think.) It helps to understand, if we feel an urge toward something, it’s only because an image and its corresponding “favorable association” has passed through our mind. Likewise, if we feel an aversion to something, an image and its “unfavorable association” has passed through our mind.


Once we realize this, our counterproductive urges (and aversions) become much easier to deal with. At the first sign of either, we can immediately pause our thoughts; isolate and examine the image / association that created the unwanted impulse, and begin making corrections. (Begin untying the inaccurate / unwanted associations and replacing them with associations that are more accurate and will serve us better.)


What follows are the specific techniques I used to “change my thoughts” regarding drugs and alcohol. (How I “destroyed my desire to drink” and moved on with the rest of my life.) These concepts are not difficult to understand and they are effective, but they won’t “work” all by themselves. It’s up to you to apply them.

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