Identifying and Changing Thought and Behavior Patterns

In my recent posts, my focus was on using emotional intelligence for personal success.

Most of the personal development ideas and practices don’t work, because they are based on intellectual concepts.

Our behavior isn’t motivated by thoughts. It’s driven by our emotions.

We fail miserably when we try to regulate our behavior with our thoughts.

We remind ourselves how beneficial it is to focus on our job and how harmful it is to distract ourselves with our gadgets.

In the end, we still don’t focus on our job and distract ourselves with our gadgets because we receive emotional rewards from distraction and emotional pain from concentrating on the task at hand.

When emotions and thoughts battle, emotions win any day of the week. It’s not even close.

Thinking your way to success is an impossible mission. There’s a way to use our thoughts to modify our behavior though.

Even though we can’t modify our behavior with thoughts, we can change our emotions with our thoughts.

If we manage to modify our emotions to trigger the desired behavior, then we are on our way to success. Let’s go over an example of how to do that.

A Real-Life Example

This example is from my own life. The first step is to identify the thought and behavior patterns that end up in an unwanted situation.

Here’s my default pattern.

  • After a working week, I’m tired on Saturday mornings.
  • I want to publish a post on Saturday morning as well.
  • I get overwhelmed.
  • I feel triggered to distract myself with the Internet to escape the discomfort.
  • Once, I enter the cycle of distraction, I spend the whole morning on the Internet.
  • I feel disappointed in the afternoon.
  • Now, my mind is even more exhausted, and I still have to write a blog post.
  • I regret how I spent my time.

The Analysis

At the beginning of this pattern, my psyche associates distractions with pleasure and work with pain. As a result, I escape work and enter into distraction. After a few hours, my psyche associates the time spend on distraction with pain.

That’s a contradiction in my mental programming. You can even call this a bug in my mind. Luckily, I can fix this bug. I can replace the dysfunctional pattern with a functional pattern. Let’s come up with a functional pattern.

First, I’ll make a list of all the things in my life that make me feel discontent. Whenever I feel the urge to distract myself, I’ll remember two feelings.

  1. The feeling of disappointment and regret after a few hours of distraction.
  2. The feeling of discontent to be triggered with the list I prepared before.

When I get into the feeling of disappointment, regret, and discontent, I feel motivated to do something about them.

At that moment, all I have to do is to focus that motivation on the work in front of me.

Now, my work is an escape mechanism from the pain of disappointment, regret, and discontent.

I effectively associated distraction with pain and punishment, and work with pleasure and rewards.

Doing It Once Won’t Solve the Problem

Coming up with this idea and thinking about it once won’t make any change in your psyche and behavior in the long term.

Unlike a computer, our minds don’t save a program upon the click of a button.

We need to use the spaced repetition method until we reach the level of unconscious competence in triggering the desired pattern.

In other words, we need to remind ourselves the same program over and over until the new pattern fires on autopilot in our minds. There are many ways of doing that.

Here’s an example. You can write a summary of your new pattern on an index card and place it on your desk. That way, you’ll remind yourself every time you feel the urge to fall back to your default patterns.

Conclusion

We’re all motivated by our emotions. Most of the time, our feelings are programmed in contradiction to our thoughts. Our desires on emotional and intellectual levels don’t match each other.

In those cases, our emotions win over our thoughts. There’s a way to overcome that uphill battle. That is programming our emotions in alignment with our thoughts.

The first step is to identify our default patterns. The second step is to come up with a beneficial pattern that associates harmful behavior with pain and useful behavior with pleasure. And the last step is to remind ourselves the new pattern until it becomes second nature.

Burak Bilgin
Software developer with a Ph.D. and 15 years of experience. I write daily on personal development and life lessons. Sign up to my email newsletter to receive a weekly overview of my latest content on personal development and life lessons.