Goal Directed Living


Sharon Nyffeler, M.S. LIMHP, LIPC, LIMFT

The human mind plays a powerful, though often overlooked role, in the search for health and well-being. Many people live at a frantic pace in the pursuit. Others appear to live an outwardly healthy lifestyle, yet feel happiness is still beyond their grasp.

Often, people fail to recognize the enormous impact of the mind. They look for external reasons to account for their emotional, behavioral or physiological responses. When internal activities such as thoughts, beliefs and attitudes are ignored, a key piece of the puzzle is missing.

Richard Carlson, author of Don’tSweat the Small Stuff…..and it’s all small stuff, writes, “something wonderful begins to happen with the simple realization that life, like an automobile, is driven from the inside out, not the other way around.” When we look to external things – the right job, the right house or the right partner – as the source of our happiness or contentment, it is highly unlikely that we will find it. Happiness begins within.

Some people seem to put life on hold with “when/ then” thinking. WHEN I overcome this challenge, WHEN I get a promotion, WHEN I can afford my dream house……...... THEN, I’ll be happy. The reality is that no matter what situation we find ourselves in, life will always present us with new obstacles and challenges.

Alfred D’Souza is quoted as saying, “for a long time it had seemed to me that life was about to begin – real life. But there was always some obstacle in the way, something to be got through first, some unfinished business, time still to be served, a debt to be paid. Then life would begin. At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life.”

We are creatures of habit. We tend to think in certain ways, not necessarily because it is accurate or helpful, but simply because it’s habit. Then we claim, “That’s just the way I am.” What we practice, we become.

Automatic thoughts are an example. These are words, memories or images that flow through our minds and powerfully affect our sense of well-being. These are the thoughts that seem to occur naturally, so we tend to accept them as truth. Humorist, Loretta Laroche tells people to think of their mind as being like a bus. Then she asks, “Who is driving your bus?”

Automatic thoughts are often old tapes, frequently negative, that have been playing for years. They may be your own negative evaluation of yourself or the echo of someone’s voice whose judgement was important to you. In Healing Mind, Healthy Woman, Domar and Dreher write, “After years of replaying, these tapes – whose messages are not only unfair, but usually false – take on a life of their own. Our inner response to almost any situation becomes unconscious and automatic: a button gets pushed and one of our greatest (i.e., nastiest) hits is played for the umpteenth time.”

Even though we are always thinking, our thoughts frequently go unrecognized. Feelings have been called the barometer that reflects what is going on inside. When we experience negative feelings, it’s like a warning signal that says, “Check this out.” It’s time to tune in to the internal activity.

Thoughts play a powerful role in shaping mood and behavior. Once an emotion is triggered, our mind seems to zero in on other thoughts that support and strengthen that mood. The stronger the mood, the more likely we are to disregard, distort or discount information that may be contradictory.

Thus, when we feel angry, we are likely to focus on the unfairness of life and all the ways we have been hurt or treated unjustly. When we feel anxious we are focused on potential dangers as well as a sense of inadequacy in handling them.

We are all subject to the snowball effect of negative thoughts. Like a snowball that gains momentum as it rolls down hill, negative thoughts also have a tendency to spiral out of control. As Greenberger and Padesky reports in Mind Over Mood, we need to catch ourselves in the act of building our mental snowball.

We can identify and challenge automatic thoughts. We can interrupt old patterns. It takes ongoing, consistent effort, but it can be done. Recognizing the power of your mind is an important step in creating a better life.