How to Choose Your Thoughts to Boost Mental Energy

It was my 995th thought of the day, not that I was counting. One of our children was up in the middle of the night vomiting. Either my husband or I would need to say home from work. “If I’d had advanced notice, I could do it,” says my husband. I’m thinking, “vomiting never provides advanced notice.” I was the one to stay home and try not to let thoughts like “I always miss work when a kid is sick” or “he doesn’t support my career” spin out of control.

Experts say we have about 60,000 thoughts per day, give or take, and 80% of them are negative. Therefore, it wasn’t the fact that my child was sick that was causing me stress; it was the thoughts about my husband not sharing the caregiving duties running around in my head. They were draining what little mental energy I had after being up in the middle of the night. Did I have a choice in my thoughts? Could I decide to think more positive thoughts? In a word, yes.

How Do We Know We Can Decide Our Thoughts?

Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, a Harvard-trained brain scientist, had a massive stroke at age 37. During her 8-year recovery as she laid new neural pathways in her brain, she realized she could choose to pick different thoughts from those she would typically have experienced pre-stroke.

For example, Dr. Taylor was often demanding and impatient with herself and others. In recovery, she understood that she could spend less time and energy criticizing “bad or wrong” decisions. Instead, she could question these thoughts of “who inside of you is doing that yelling and at whom are you yelling?” Dr. Taylor learned to choose thoughts of compassion instead of criticism. She embraced the intention of kindness because she knew it was possible that she was unaware of everything impacting another person that could provide a good explanation for specific actions.

How Do We Decide Our Thoughts?

First, we need to become an observer of our thoughts and then the feelings, actions, and consequences that result. “When you shine a light on your thoughts in your mind and step out of yourself, you can see that you are not what you do, what you think, your results, or your body,” says Brooke Castillo.

Through her own personal development and coaching clients, Castillo learned that “it’s never the circumstances causing your feelings—it’s always your thinking about the circumstances.” This led her to design a model that guides us to work with circumstances, thoughts, and feelings causing actions and results that we don’t want SO THAT we can decide to change our thoughts to yield feelings, actions, and results that we DO want.

Here’s Castillo’s model:

Brooke Castillo self coaching 101

Note: the result will always be evidence of the original thought (aka a self-fulfilling prophecy).

Working the Model

How could I have decided on a thought that served me better when my husband couldn’t miss work because he had no advanced warning that our child would vomit in the middle of the night? Using Castillo’s model, this is what my current thought looked like:

Circumstance: parent needs to miss work because a sick child can’t go to daycare

CURRENT Thought: if my husband supported my career, he’d miss work

Feeling: frustration and sadness

Actions: withdraw from my husband and not talk about my work

Result: not sharing my work with my husband prevents opportunities for him to support my career

When I change my thought, the resulting feeling, action, and result work much better for me.

Circumstance: parent needs to miss work because a sick child can’t go to daycare

NEW Thought: my husband may have important meetings that I don’t know about and I can attend the one meeting I have scheduled by phone

Feeling: understanding and compassion

Actions: ask my husband about his day without resentment and share my day including the ability to attend a work meeting via phone

Result: sharing our workday with each other and planning for the next kid sick day so that both of us feel supported in our careers

Now you try …

Step 1: Name your problem or issue.

Step 2: Categorize it into either a circumstance, thought, feeling, action/behavior, or result.

Step 3: Fill in the rest of the model.

Step 4: Change the thought that is not working and choose a new thought.

Step 5: Put the new thought in a blank model and fill in the rest with new details.

Circumstance: __________________________________________________________

Thought: _____________________________________________________________

Feeling: ______________________________________________________________

Action: ______________________________________________________________

Result: ______________________________________________________________

Using Castillo’s model when I experience thoughts, feelings, actions, or results that don’t serve me well puts me in the driver seat of my life. I can decide, and therefore take charge of, my thoughts, feelings, actions, and results.

Join my private Working Moms Who Thrive Facebook group to connect with like-minded women who want to take charge of their choices in work + life.

Dive Deeper

Watch this 10-minute video if you’d like to see the model in action.

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Karen Clark Salinas

I’m Karen Clark Salinas, and it’s my mission to help women live their full purpose (work + family) without sacrificing wellbeing. I want to be the coach I wish I’d had when I was a working mom. Someone to help me get unstuck and live my life more intentionally. Marriage, motherhood, chronic illness, divorce, remarriage, and caring for aging loved ones contribute significantly to my story. I know for sure that, with my support, you can pursue your professional dreams while raising a happy and healthy family.

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