Thought Patterns

The way we pattern our thoughts has an enormous impact on our mental health and happiness. Thought patterns can be divided into two main categories. I’m going to call these recursive and input-output. A note to those who are math-phobic: I am going to use some math concepts to explain these thinking patterns. Stay with me; I promise I’ll make it simple:)

Recursive Thinking

In math, we can look at functions (think of these like a rule or pattern) recursively by only considering the output. The rule ignores the input completely and only considers the starting output and the pattern to get from one term to the next. For example, in the table below, the rule would say, “Start with 12 and add 3 each time.” Recursive rules feed upon themselves, with each output based on the one before. They are like a chain, with each term linked to the one before and the one after.

In recursive thinking, your thought pattern is initiated by something: a memory, a trauma, a comment. Your thoughts then feed upon themselves with no regard for any external input. This type of thinking can lead to depression or anxiety as the brain simply continues the emotionally equivalent of “plus 3” with no end in sight. When you feel stuck emotionally, this is the type of pattern you are experiencing. When your reaction builds well beyond the initial stimulus, you are thinking recursively. When you feel sad or angry or anxious even in the face of calm, you are allowing the chain of thought to continue unbroken.

Input-Output Thinking

An input-output rule in math relates the output to the input. For example, in the (identical) table below, the input-output rule would say, “Multiply the input by 3 and add 9.” The output is dependent upon the input. Change the input, and you alter the output.

In input-output thinking, your reactions are based upon the external stimulus rather than your previous thoughts. You may be sad, but the emotion and associated thought patterns are due to your situation. You may respond in anger or feel fear but these are due to the inputs you experience. If you change the input, the associated thoughts will change with it.

Recursion is easy, effortless – which is why it is so valuable in computer programming. Its endless loops create the self-similarity needed for programs to run unaltered. Recursive thinking can be beneficial when it is positive in nature, but all too often it is the negative thoughts that pull us into its pattern.

Recursion has a weakness. Since each output is dependent upon the one before, if you break the chain, you break the pattern. If you catch yourself in this cycling thought pattern, find a way to interrupt the flow. Do something differently to break the cycle. Whatever you normally do or say, don’t. Recursion requires a hands-off approach to survive. So get your hands dirty and change it.

Then, consciously shift your thinking to input-output and deliberately choose positive inputs to encourage positive outputs. Surround yourself with nature, connect with friends, do something that feels good. Change the input and your thoughts will follow.

Thank you for sharing!

15 thoughts on “Thought Patterns

  1. I try, really try. Sadly I got my self-esteem from him. I feel if he left me I am not worthy of loving. Trying to change the input, my lawyer, the judge even my kids say he is an a-hole. But the heart doesn’t listen. Thanks for your input.

  2. For Magnumsmom, if I may….It will come. It takes time. We, who have gone before, salute you and pray for you. One day you absolutely realize that you are worth it, wonderfully and perfectly made as you are. Keep reading Lisa, she has helped me a great deal.

    1. It does take time. I think you have to get out of the initial yuck before you can start to gain some (healing) perspective.

      Thanks for the endorsement:)

  3. Okay, I have to admit I almost didn’t read this post, once you started w/ the math-stuff. But you’d promised to make it easy, so I soldiered on. Glad I did. What I take away from this is a reinforcement of something I experienced several weeks ago, and again, recently:

    A month or two ago H wanted to watch a movie with me. I hedged, not knowing if I could handle spending time around this man who has alternately ignored me/made me feel like the bad-guy since D-day (except when it’s about the kids). But, wanting to keep peace, and to see if we could somehow remain civil, I agreed. We settled on an action-flick. (I didn’t want to watch a rom-com with him.) Halfway in, I realized the main-guy’s daughter had the same name as H’s AP. And I knew that eventually the main-guy would say, “I love you, (her name).” Also, it was revealed that the main-guy had cheated on his wife (his daughter’s now-deceased mother) during their marriage. It was too much to be watching this movie, sitting on opposite ends of the sofa w/ H. With the action at high-climax, I bolted. (H never tried to find out why.) –> Recursive thinking. (?)

    But I realized later that If I’d been watching the movie alone I probably could have handled it, Similarly, I’ve had no problems watching rom-coms alone, w/o H. And recently, I read a book where the romantic male-lead had the same first name as my abusive ex-boyfriend. But I managed, for the most part, to not let this ruin the story for me. A few times it almost became an exercise in pushing past triggers, but I did it.–> Input-Output thinking. (?)

  4. The hardest part of my divorce…..
    Accepting that no matter what any outside stimulus occurred, I am still responsible for my life. I allowed “him to beat me into nothing “.
    I appreciate your breakdown of patterns.
    Very helpful and timely. If you find a short cut between knowing and doing. ….I am so there. ;).

    1. I wish there was a shortcut…

      Still, it’s powerful to realize that you can choose your response regardless of the stimulus. One of those things things that is so simple but by no means easy.

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