I think, I feel, I do– not always in that order!

There is interesting information on brain plasticity that suggests that behavior changes the brain physically. Memories can become stronger depending on how often they’re recalled, and can change over time. Memory is a fallible thing, as we all know.

By the same token, we know that memory alters behavior– we remember not to put the hand on the hot burner because we remember the pain. Next time, we slowly approach the burner and feel it from a distance first. We remember to buy flowers for that special someone for their birthday because the results of doing it are good and the results of not doing it are bad.  And, of course, both behaviors and memories have feelings that go along with them.

So here’s the meditation of the moment: none of these things are inevitably and irrevocably connected– especially the connection between feeling and behavior and the connection between thoughts/memories and behavior. I can have a memory of an argument I had with my spouse just before leaving for work, have the feeling of outrage– the thought– they were clearly in the wrong! Now, what’s my behavior? I have choices, don’t I?

I can immediately shoot back, using an outraged tone of voice and a host of accusations about how wrong my partner was. I can take a minute to sit back and review what was said, remembering that memory is fallible. Before calling, texting, or communicating in any way, I can ask myself, do I want to be right more than I want to be married? (By the way, welcome to all the gay and lesbian couples who can now experience the joys– or not– of marriage) Even if I’m upset and still sure I’m right, I can take some time to calm down and use a calm, quiet voice to resume the conversation.

What we’re talking about here has a lot to do with anger management and good relationships, but also pertains to everything we do.  Do I want that second piece of cake, or antoher drink? I know it’s on sale, but do I really have the money? They offered me the job with great pay, but how stable is the company? There’s another side to this, too– I don’t feel like doing the exercise, but I know it’s good for me. I don’t feel like doing the wash, but I like clean socks. So many things involve doing the work first before getting the reward. Our behavior can come first, the good feelings afterward. Or our behavior can come first, and the bad feelings afterward.  Obviously we have poetntial for feedback loops here, but sometimes we have to virtually ignore a feeling and focus on doing a behavior in order to succeed.


About jamesmatter

Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT) in private practice in San Francisco. I work with adults, adolescents, and couples, with focus on substance use and abuse and co-occurring disorders (having both a mental illness and an addiction).
This entry was posted in behavioral health, choices, Couples and relationships, mental health, mindfulness, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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