Dan Lippmann LCSW. Practical, Sustainable Happiness

Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life

I first encountered the idea that our thoughts create our feelings when I was a college freshman. Up until that time, I had thought that the opposite was true. I’d experience an upsetting situation or feel a negative emotion, such as jealousy or fear, and then I’d have all sorts of upsetting thoughts (I’m not good enough. I’ll never be able to do this.) Somehow it seemed self-evident that our feelings cause our thoughts.

I realized the error of my “thoughts” when I became a subject in a research study as part of my Psych 100 course requirements. During the study, I first had to complete a questionnaire evaluating my level of anxiety and depression. Then, I was asked to read a series of negative statements aloud. Some of the statements were: I’m a bad person. I have done many bad things. I doubt that anything good will happen to me in the future. After saying the statements, I had to complete the original questionnaire again.

The graduate student running the experiment later explained that researchers were interested in determining if reading a list of negative statements could temporarily increase someone’s level of anxiety or depression. He said that the preliminary results showed that this was true — simply reading negative statements aloud temporarily increased people’s anxiety and depression.

I immediately realized that people’s negative thoughts and self-talk had to be a factor in creating anxiety and depression, as well as other negative emotions. Despite this realization, I had no idea how someone could change their thoughts in a systematic and reliable way.

When I became a counselor several years later, I thought that by helping people explore their past, I could help them challenge their negative assumptions and beliefs. This worked some of the time, but was a haphazard approach at best. Now with the development of my Mood Switch Method, I can often lead people to more realistic or even positive thinking in a handful of sessions. In fact, that’s exactly what happened to me. There’s an old saying in my field that says if you see enough clients you’ll eventually cure yourself. I’ve discovered that only works if you use the right techniques. As I began to use CBT techniques with my clients, my own mood improved dramatically!

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