Lessons for Living       
Lesson Seventeen: "Automatic Thinking"


"Our minds are always busy making meaning of life events."




Welcome to Lessons for Living.

This weeks lesson is on, "Automatic Thinking."

We create our own reality with our thinking. Something happens and we think about it. What we think determines our reaction and experience. Our experience becomes our reality.

Our minds are always busy making meaning of life events. The problem is that we don’t always know we are doing it. Over time this making of meaning becomes automatic and happens outside of awareness. It is automatic because we have practiced it so often.

Automatic thinking is like the experience of learning to drive a stick-shift car. Did you learn to drive a standard transmission? Do you remember what it was like? You had to concentrate very hard on coordinating your hands and your feet. With one hand on the steering wheel and one on the gearshift, you had to use your foot to press the clutch at just the right moment to change gears. If it was not done smoothly then you did either choked down or did the "bunny hop" of starting and stopping down the street. With practice you improved and today can drive across town, play a CD, talk on the phone, and arrive alive without really knowing how you did it. You don’t have to think about it anymore because it is automatic. Changing gears and steering happen out of your awareness. You only pay close attention in an emergency.

Your thinking is the same. You have practiced certain thoughts and reactions so many times that they are automatic. You make a mistake and immediately think, "I can’t do anything right." A coworker is rude and you say to yourself, "She’s out to get me again." Someone cuts you off in traffic, and you think, "What an idiot." These automatic responses produce a mood, influence your behavior, and create your reality. You never stop and challenge what you think because you are not aware of the process. What you tell yourself just seems to be the truth. You do always mess up, your coworker is out to get you, or the world is full of jerks.

There are other possibilities. If you learn to pay attention to what you say to yourself then you can challenge it. You can make different choices. Is it true that you always make a mistake? Could the boss have just criticized your coworker and that is why she was upset? Was the other driver rushing to the hospital? If you see another possibility then you get another reality and a different experience. Automatic thinking can create trouble that you don’t need. It can create a distressing reality that is based upon your habitual thinking.

  • Learn to pay more attention to what you say to yourself.
  • Look for other explanations for what happened.
  • Consider the possibility that your first thought may not be right.
  • Challenge your thinking and give life the best meaning that you can.

Enliven life by looking for fresh possibilities and don’t fall back on old, automatic habits.

2000 Daniel H. Johnston. All Rights Reserved.

[ Awakenings Home ] [ Lessons for Living ] [ Back ] [ Next ]