Brain/Body Interactive Cycle
This is the basic process that occurs as we interact with the world. When something happens, our body reacts and sends a message to our brains. Then, our brains interpret the message from the body, how we end up feeling is determined by the interpretation that we assign. The key is that this cycle doesn’t control us, we can control it! We can change our interpretation to change how we feel and what we do.
This is the basic cycle that occurs in our minds when an event occurs in our life. This is the cycle that we can take control of to live healthy and happy lives!
Filter and Meaning
The very first thing that we do when an event occurs is assign a meaning to it, filtered through our core beliefs. Our core beliefs are largely influenced by our attachment style. So, if we have a secure attachment style, and our partner is kind/sensitive to us, the meaning we assign might be, “My partner loves me. I matter to them.” If, however, someone has a preoccupied attachment style, they would be much more likely to assign a meaning like, “I wonder if they mean that. I bet they are just saying that.” It is important to realize that this is the meaning we assign! It is NOT necessarily the correct interpretation or true meaning!
The meaning that we assign leads to how we feel about whatever has happened. In the example above, if we assign the meaning that our partner loves us and we matter to them, we are likely to feel happy and safe. We would likely come away from the second interpretation feeling nervous and unsettled.
The way we feel usually leads to an action. In the example above, if I assigned the meaning that my partner loves me, I might tell them I love them or do something nice for them. If I had assigned the meaning that that they probably didn’t mean the kind thing that they did or said, and I felt nervous as a result, I would likely might actually distance myself from them or challenge them on their intent by saying something like, “You are just saying that, how could you actually love me.”
The action leads to a new event, and the cycle continues! For example, if I tell my partner I love them, they might give me a hug or a compliment. Across time, our actions (which are based on our interpretations and feelings) determine the results in our lives.
Interrupting the Cycle
It is SO important to remember that we have control over our cognitive cycles! They can be interrupted or changed at various points. The most effective point to interrupt the cycle is at the meaning stage. If we can change our interpretation, that sets the whole cycle on a different path. For example, if my partner says, “Nice shirt,” but I’m not sure about their tone, I might assign sarcasm to their meaning, which could lead to hurt feelings and possibly retaliatory actions. The easiest and best thing would be to simply ASK them what they meant: “Hey, were you being sarcastic? Or do you actually like my shirt?” We don’t know what’s going on in someone’s head unless we ASK! Without “Checking the Meaning” to make sure that we have accurately interpreted an event, we will ALMOST ALWAYS be off to some degree. We just never know exactly what is going on in someone else’s head without asking. We can save ourselves a lot of heartache and misunderstanding by asking instead of assuming what someone is thinking/feeling.
The cycle can also be interrupted at later stages! For example, even if I don’t ask my partner what they meant, and if my feelings get hurt, I can choose to act healthily. I can do something nice or communicate about how I’m feeling: “Hey, it hurt my feelings earlier when you said ‘nice shirt’ because you sounded sarcastic. I want to feel like you think I’m attractive, so I would appreciate it if you could refrain from commenting negatively on my appearance.” We do NOT have to do something bad/negative just because we feel it! We can ALWAYS choose to be healthy.
In My Life
I think about Cognitive Cycles several times every day. When it feels like communication just isn’t quite gelling, it is almost always due to misinterpretation. When I feel that, I try to back up and say something like, “Okay, we seem to be missing each other here, what is it that you are trying to get me to understand that I am missing?” Doing this almost always helps me to break out of the cycle and get back on track. Checking the Meaning is a relatively simple and EXTREMELY effective tool to improve communication and to take control of what neurons fire in your brain. It is a very helpful tool to help you begin to rewire your brain!