The space that a thought takes up is…who the heck knows? 

As far as we understand, a thought is not tangible, yet everyone agrees there is such a thing! Here are three things I do understand about thoughts. 

First, thoughts are almost always “automatic.” If you stood in a breeze and noticed that little paper notes were floating, drifting, or flying around and by you, that is how thoughts occur. You can reach out and grasp one of the notes. You can read it and believe it, or not.  Other floating pieces are ones you ignore or don’t choose to make any effort to acknowledge. 

Secondly, a thought believed causes an emotional response, a feeling. Again, it’s automatic.  This explains why two people in the exact same situation can feel very differently. 

If you are a dog lover and one walks up to you, wagging its tail, you are going to experience opposite feelings than someone beside you who was previously traumatized by a dog bite.  Your thought is, “Oh, how cute.” Then you feel how you feel; then you act from that feeling, looking around for the dog’s owner or checking its collar for a phone number. The other person’s thought is, “Oh, no! Danger!” Then they feel how that thought makes them feel and act from that feeling by backing away. 

Thirdly, two thoughts cannot occupy the same space. One thought can be displaced by another thought. Hence, one feeling can be changed to another feeling, and one corresponding action can be replaced with a different action.  That’s why “positive thinking” is so darn popular. People notice that if they focus on thoughts that are constructive, uplifting, and empowering, they feel better.

As a leader, understanding thoughts and emotions will help you understand other people. Perhaps you have seen people get angry or sad in a situation, but you couldn’t figure out why they felt that way. Ask yourself what thoughts they could be having that would be the source of their emotions (and actions). Of course, you can’t assume you know the answer without checking with that person, but you’ll have a good place to start. Always remember that they have different life experiences and beliefs than you do.  All too often we expect someone to feel the same way as we do, which is a mistake in good leadership.

“Our life is what our thoughts make it.” — Marcus Aurelius

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