The Mind Cycle – Understanding the What, Why and How of our Minds

Understanding the Master System that controls our lives

Our lives are controlled by three elements: our emotions, our thoughts, and our actions. It’s easy to see that these elements are all important. After all, what we feel, what we think, and what we do are essential to who we are. What’s less obvious, however, is how these three elements interact.

In fact, these elements are interrelated in one way: they are controlled in our mind! Our mind is the Master System of our body, and it is responsible for our Volition (actions), Cognition (thoughts) and Emotions (feelings).

Let’s take a look at what exactly goes on in the Mind Cycle!

What goes on in our Mind

The link between our thoughts, our emotions, and our behaviours was theorized by American psychiatrist Dr Aaron T. Beck, considered by many to be the ‘father of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy’. The Cognitive Triangle, as it is known, is a model that helps chart out the Mind and the cycle that it operates in.

Cognitive Triangle Mind Cycle Infographic

Simply put, the following three things happen in a cycle of our Mind:

  • feelings affect our actions and thoughts. 
  • actions affect our feelings and thoughts.
  • thoughts affect our actions and feelings.

How things happen in our Mind

Still unclear? Imagine this situation:

It is late at night. You are walking through a dark alley alone, and you hear a sudden rustling noise coming from behind you. What is it?

Thought 1: “It’s a cat!”

What are the effects on our feelings and our actions?

Mind Cycle Calm

“Okay, it’s a cat. Nothing to be afraid of (calm). Continue walking peacefully.”

Thought 2: “It’s a thief!”

What are the effects on our feelings and our actions?

Mind Cycle Panic

“Oh no, it’s a thief! I don’t know what to do (panic, nervous, afraid). Start to sweat, heart beats faster, and walk faster. Look for somewhere to hide or prepare to run”.

From this example, we see that our Mind gets triggered by a single thought. From there, our actions and feelings get influenced. This can continue in a cycle which affects our thoughts again: perhaps we begin to feel curious and want to know the truth, so we act by turning around to see what happens… and so on and so forth.

Why does the mind work this way?

Although we do not have full scientific proof yet, one theory is that the mind wants to align our actions, thoughts, and feelings together in harmony. In order to maintain this balance, when there is a change in any one of the elements, it will also bring the other elements together to the same state. Thus, any one of the elements is able to strongly affect the other two.

Indeed, we realize that thoughts can quickly and easily affect our actions and emotions. In addition, it is not just situations on their own that creates imbalances in our feelings and behaviour. Because of the Mind Cycle, all three elements are equally responsible, and often it is the story we tell ourselves through our thoughts that has the greatest impact on behaviour.

Using the Mind Cycle

With this Cognitive Triangle model developed by Dr Beck, a new form of Therapy, known as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) was born. Beck proposed that by changing any one of the three elements of the Mind, the other elements would naturally follow. This can help by changing emotions to feel what we desire, altering our thoughts to think what we would like, and ultimately act in a way that we want.

How can we do all this, then? Well, stay tuned! Our next article is just about that: we take a look at the Cognitive/Thoughts portion of the Cognitive Triangle to understand what exactly goes into our thinking, and what we can do to change it.


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