New Twist on the Thought-Feeling-Behavior Writing Cycle

“Enthusiasm, motivation, and dedication are necessary for your success as a writer,” says Kelly L. Stone, author of Living Write: the secret to inviting your craft into your daily life.

But…what if you don’t have all those emotional tools (the enthusiasm, motivation and dedication) at your disposal?

“Don’t worry,” says Kelly. “They can be learned as part of the thought-feeling-behavior cycle.”

Same Old Thing? Not!

I’ve heard before that thoughts cause your feelings which cause your actions, and you probably have too. However, Ms. Stone gives a very helpful twist to the “you can change how you feel and act by changing how you think” mantra. And this “plus” makes the idea instantly useful to anyone trying to improve her writing life.

How? By seeing this as a cycle, not a linear set of events. I’d always heard that you had to go in order–1, 2, 3. You change your thoughts first, then your feelings would change, and then your behavior would change. However, this author claims (and I agree after trying it out) that it’s not a straight line, but instead a cycle that runs like a loop.

What does this mean to writers? It means that if you change any one element of the cycle, you will by necessity change the other two parts. You don’t have to start with changing your thoughts if you don’t want to–or if it feels too hard. You can change your writing life by changing whatever is easiest for you.

Practical Terms

For example, maybe you’re a Nike-Just-Do-It! kind of writer. You can’t bring your thoughts or emotions into subjection, but you can grit your teeth and sit yourself down at the keyboard right on schedule. If that’s true–if controlling behavior is the easiest part of the cycle for you–then skip worrying about your thoughts and feelings and hit the behavior first.

Maybe it’s easier for you to deal with feelings. I know a perky, sanguine writer who tackles feelings first. Her depressed anxious feelings rebound to optimism just by taking a nap! However, maybe for a variety of publishing and non-publishing reasons, your feelings about writing are sour, and fixing those ricocheting feelings is a losing battle. Then tackle another part of the cycle that is easier for you. (Personally, no matter what I’m going through, I find controlling or changing feelings the hardest part.)

Of the three aspects of the cycle, thoughts are easiest for me to change. It means I have to tell myself the truth, but in a kind way. Over the years, for many problems that I faced, I learned the importance of positive affirmations based on truth. (e.g. Getting started is hard for all writers. Rejection is part of the writing game–writers live through it. My self-worth is NOT based on sales.) I saw that repeating these truths daily for weeks and months could totally reprogram my brain and change my attitude, my feelings, and the resultant actions.

No Right or Wrong Way

The point? Whatever part of the cycle is easiest for you on any given day, do that. You only need to change one element of the cycle in order to affect the other parts. One day you might find it easiest to self-talk your feelings into shape; other days it might just be easier to sit down and write and forget about your depression for a while. Whichever aspect you choose, it will affect your writing.

If you think more positively about your writing, your feelings will improve and you’ll find yourself wanting to sit down and write.

Or you can work on the feelings part: the author suggested saying, “I love to write!” whenever your feelings were negative. Those improved feelings will prompt you to write, and writing for an hour or two will change how you think about yourself.

Or work on the behaviors part–bribe yourself to sit down and write each morning for a set amount of time, and see how that reprograms your thoughts and feelings about yourself as a writer.

It All Adds Up

Changing one aspect of the cycle changes them all. You may have to experiment to find which part changes most easily for you. Instead of succumbing to a downward negative spiral, one change and you boost the cycle upward.

“You can see how thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are directly connected,” says Ms. Stone. “This is why learning to control your thought-feeling-behavior cycle is so important–because it’s cumulative and self-perpetuating.”

Which part of the cycle do you suspect would be the easiest part for you to change ? Leave a comment below!

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