When Your Brain Enters the Scene

It’s not what happens TO us, it’s what happens IN OUR BRAIN that determines how we feel, what we do and all the results we ultimately end up with in our life.

How does this work? Let’s say you get this text from your son in college: he has quit school. 

Now, I want to make a point here: that message from your son is a circumstance. Whether he quit school is a circumstance. All circumstances are neutral. Neither good nor bad. They just are.

But you read the text, and your brain enters the scene. You have a thought.

Here’s the second point I want to make: we have a choice about what we think. There are unlimited thoughts to think in any circumstance. We may not realize we have a choice, probably nobody ever taught us that, but we always do.

Let’s look at some thoughts you might be thinking (and the emotion that thought probably would generate in you):

No @%!#ing way! He can’t just up and decide that! (in denial)

What the @%!#? After all we’ve done to get him in, all the money we’ve spent…I’m gonna wring his neck! (furious)

Whoa! I wonder what’s going on with him, what’s happened. (concerned)

Okay, third point: our emotions fuel our actions. So, in each of the examples above- feeling in denial or furious or concerned- what do you think you would do? Would you call your son? Your spouse? The college? What would the first words out of your mouth be? Would there likely be a showdown, a conversation, an edict given? How about your relationship with your son? 

Imagine all you would do and say in each case, and what might result from that. 

Here is a way to diagram the elements and relationships we have been discussing here:

A CIRCUMSTANCE is outside you, is always neutral, until you have a…

THOUGHT (or opinion, belief) which is always a choice whether conscious or not, where you give meaning to the circumstance, which generates a… 

FEELING or emotional/bodily reaction, that fuels…

ACTION all that you do, don’t do, say, don’t say, and that brings a…

RESULT in your life, initiated by your thought above.

Simply called “The Model,” this is a tool developed by Brooke Castillo, founder of The Life Coach School. We use a blank form- the five elements of the Model with blanks to fill in- to separate out and fill in all the parts of a situation in order to understand it better. 

Curiosity and self compassion need always be our guides in this work. As a coach, I ask both myself and my clients: By thinking this thought, what result am I creating in my life? Are there other thoughts I can think about this circumstance instead? To feel better about my job, my relationships, my life, what kinds of thoughts would I need to think?

Paying attention to our lives and making conscious choices are not new ideas. Socrates famously said: the unexamined life is not worth living. The Serenity Prayer says: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; Courage to change the things I can; And wisdom to know the difference. We find this echoed in all the great spiritual teachings and inspired works, across every tradition and culture.

We have so much more power in our lives than most of us ever take up. Power to choose our thoughts, to feel good about our lives, to act in ways that create the life we aspire to.