Thought-Feeling-Behavior, oh my!

It’s a beautiful time of year. The time of togetherness. The time of year where the ones you love and hold dear start to get on your nerves.

Yo. You read that right. I’m just calling it how it is. Whether it’s too much togetherness at school or too much togetherness at home, sometimes it’s just too much.

You know what I’m talking about. Things that people say or do that we usually brush off start to feel like a bigger deal and grate on our nerves. It happens to the best of us. Sometimes, those comments or actions are harmless and innocent. Other times, they are harmful and needed to be confronted.

Either way, ’tis the season for confronting, ha, whether it’s confronting others or confronting reality and the role we are playing in our own reality. The closer we get to the end of the calendar year, the more we find ourselves reflecting on what we wanted to achieve and how much progress we have or have not made toward those goals.

A healthy way of reflecting on how something is going is through the use of the Cognitive Behavior Triad, a concept developed by Aaron Beck.

I just quickly drew that so let’s not judge my diagram, please and thank you. But in short, it goes something like this. Our thoughts lead to our feelings which leads to our behavior. So, if we can change our thoughts then we can change feelings, and therefore change our behavior.

I give an example of what this looks like in the draft of my book:

Growth often isn’t measured in the number of pushups we can do, increased performance on an evaluation, or the number of things we were able to check off our to-do lists. Many times, personal growth can be measured by how we respond to what’s happening around us. Recently, a teacher told me how much she missed seeing me. It was a small, kind, innocent comment intended to make me feel seen and cared for but that is not how I felt when I heard it. One of my personal values is proximity. As a Director of Secondary Teaching and Learning, I make a point to spend 99% of my time in the school buildings. I make sure that I walk the hallways of our middle school and say hi to people. I ensure that I don’t cut corners. I walk every part of it; this includes even walking to the end of the hallways that deadend. Depending on the time of day and what’s happening in lessons, doors may be closed and teachers may be out of their room, but I smile and wave to whomever I can. I mark time off my calendar to ensure this gets done because it’s a big priority for me. My belief is that proximity builds trust so being around is really, really important. I’m telling you all of this and emphasizing it, so you can understand that hearing that comment made me feel like I was not living out my values. Here’s how my cognitive behavior triangle first played out:

Trigger: A teacher told me that she missed seeing me.

Thought: I’m working so hard to be around and it’s still not enough. There are so many things I’m not good at, and this was the one thing I thought I was doing right and even that’s not going right.

Feeling: I feel so inadequate in this job. I’m trying so hard to see people, and they aren’t feeling seen. I feel hopeless because I’m doing the best that I can right now.

Behavior: Maybe I won’t bother making those rounds anymore because they aren’t having an impact any way.

Luckily, my thoughts didn’t play out like that for too long because I stumbled upon this concept of the Cognitive Behavior Triangle, and I’m working on replacing that thinking with the following:

Trigger: A teacher told me that she missed seeing me.

Replacement Thought: It’s so nice that people want to see me.

Feeling: It makes me feel like it matters whether I come to work every day and that feels good.

Behavior: Next week I’m going to go out of my way to find the person who said they missed seeing me.

Now, I am not “cured.” I continue to learn the same lessons over and over again. I continue to struggle with the same patterns of thinking. However, now more often than not, I catch it when it’s happening. Now, when a staff member tells me they miss me, I am able to replace my initial thought with more productive thoughts. In doing so, I change how I feel and how I respond to how I feel. It takes practice and progress isn’t linear. Sometimes, I will slip back into my old thinking. This often happens when I’m tired and coping with other stress.

So, back to the season of too much togetherness. Pay attention to your thoughts in situations and with people that are triggering for you. Your thoughts lead to your feelings which leads to your response. Give yourself a little grace when you don’t respond in ways that make you feel proud and remember that this triangle is a practical strategy for understanding how you’re feeling and how you want to respond in the future.

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