Thoughts. The ever-present voice in our head that we often only pay much attention to when there’s a problem. Even then, we often hand the bulk of the blame to our emotions and don’t give much thought to our thoughts- the litany of words constantly running through our minds. In this series of articles, I want to highlight a few key points and observations I’ve made about our thoughts from my personal life and my work as a therapist.

First, let’s talk thoughts “versus” emotions to clear a little air here. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way thoughts and emotions, to some extent, have been philosophically pitted against one other- as if they’re enemies or on different sides and we have to pick one. This simply isn’t realistic. If that were true, we’d all have to choose to be either emotionless robots or puddles. We can easily look at people on either extreme- of over-identifying with thoughts (more on that in a later article) or with emotions- and clearly see that they aren’t interacting with the world around them in a balanced, healthy way. But, even so, often when I ask someone about their emotions, I hear claims about preferring to be a “more rational person.” To me, that seems a bit like your physical therapist asking you how your legs are feeling and you tell her you prefer to concentrate on your arms. Both thoughts and emotions are on the same team. We need them both and they work best together, assuming we can separate them at all. As I wrote about in another article- “The Truth About Pain”– we can no more separate thoughts and emotions than we can fully separate emotional and physical pain. I bring this up to clarify that in this series when I’m writing about thoughts I’m doing so under the assumption and understanding that thoughts and emotions are not completely separate entities.

The next part in this series will focus on the topic of self-talk so here I want to only touch on this idea as it relates to the power of our words. It is hard to argue with the fact that words have power. Words play a part in much of what inspires us. Speeches by charismatic leaders have started revolutions (think Hitler, for example) and have converted people to religions or ideas they never considered (think brilliant authors like C.S. Lewis). They’ve convinced people to change entire perspectives. We see this on both the positive and negative ends of the spectrum. Either way, it’s difficult to deny that words have power.

I see this present itself in a few different, very significant ways in my work as a therapist. First, there have been countless articles, books, and research studies since the dawn of the field of counseling about the effects of our thoughts and internal beliefs on our mental health. In fact, there is an entire model of counseling called “Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy” (CBT) that posits that our thoughts directly impact our behavior. To put it simply, you can significantly change behaviors by changing the thoughts that drive them. Without getting into a theoretical debate regarding Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, I believe most of us in the field of mental health counseling would agree that our thoughts (the beliefs we’re rehearsing and justifying in our heads) have a significant impact on our behaviors and our general well-being.

The second and probably most compelling way I see the power of words work in my counseling office is when they are spoken, often for the first time, by my clients. Sometimes I even feel a bit guilty about how much this continues to amaze me. As a therapist, I know that so much of the power of therapy lies in the clients’ courage to talk about and through things in a way they haven’t done before. I say I feel guilty at times because, deep down, I know this to be true- that there is something nearly magical about talking through something difficult and vulnerable in the presence of a non-judgmental witness (whether this is a therapist or a friend), especially for the first time. However, I’m still amazed each time I hear a client say, “Wow, I feel so much better/lighter/freer.” when I’ve essentially only sat as an actively-listening, empathetic witness. It’s such a beautiful part of how we are foundationally social creatures who, at our cores, are ready-built for relationships. Peter Levine (1997), the originator of Somatic Experiencing, speaks to this profound truth by stating, “Trauma is not what happens to us, but what we hold inside in the absence of an empathetic witness.” The opposite of this, then, also holds true. Hurt that happens in relationship can be healed in relationship.

Third, on a personal level, working as a counselor has changed my view regarding the impact of the spoken word. Before, honestly, I don’t know that I’d given a lot of thought to the topic. Yes, I was a sensitive kid so I was keenly aware of how others words could affect me but had never considered this on a more global level. I had given little thought to how my words affect others and, then even more so, how words have such power to heal, to harm, to stick to the insides of our heads, and to even lay the groundwork for lifelong beliefs about ourselves and the world around us. John Eldredge, author of Wild at Heart, speaks to the power of words by calling the detrimental words spoken over us, especially as children, as “wounds of the heart.”  He goes on to explain that if we hear a “message” enough times, we’ll eventually start to believe it to the extent that I believe my eyes are green (they are, by the way). We can come to believe it so wholeheartedly or so unquestionably that we accept it as fact. Once we then accept something as fact, the tint of our worldview lens tends to confirm rather than deny this “truth.” My colleague Allan spoke to this beautifully in his recent article about how these messages can play a part in our parenting. Some of the most powerful moments I’ve been a part of in my therapy office have been those in which I have had the opportunity to speak truth to obvious lies. Sometimes it’s the first time that person has heard (or better yet allowed) someone else to speak against their wounds masquerading as “facts.” From time-to-time, I think about that original moment(s) when the wound was first inflicted. I wonder whether or not the speaker had any clue the impact they were having on that person (often a child) and whether they would have said what they did if they had known. In his wonderful little book The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz (2008) writes, “The human mind is like a fertile ground where seeds are continually being planted. The seeds are opinions, ideas, and concepts. You plant a seed, a thought, and it grows. The word is like a seed, and the human mind is so fertile!” This is true whether the words spoken are harmful or affirming. I believe it is best for us to remain aware of just how fertile this soil is in ourselves and each other.

Words are powerful. As I said at the beginning, our thoughts are essentially the words we’re constantly speaking to ourselves. While I won’t argue that spoken and written words may differ in some ways than our thoughts, I think the backbone of the matter is the same. Words are powerful, even if no one but us hears them. In part two of this series, we’ll delve into the huge impact these specific types of words can have on our overall well-being.


Eldredge, J. (2011). Wild at Heart: Discovering the Secret of a Man’s Soul. Harpercollins Christian Pub.

Levine, P. A. (1997). Waking the Tiger. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.

Ruiz, D. (2008). The Four Agreements. Thorndike, Me.: Center Point Pub.

Our intention creates our reality

Wayne Dyer

New Years. A time to reflect on the past year and to set forth resolutions for the future. There is something beautiful and inspiring when we think about a chance for new beginnings. This is the time of year where we are inundated by commercials for weight loss and fitness. You can’t walk into a store without being bombarded by the latest workout gear, fitness trends, and the latest diet crazes. We are all set on making improvements as we face a new year. What is it about the idea of a new beginning that is so inspiring? We have a drive to start again, to set goals, and to believe that the upcoming year can be better than the last. For many, the past year was full of uncertainty and fear. We live in an ever-changing world where so much is inherently out of our control. Yet, we can decide and choose to make changes. We do have the power to set intention into the upcoming year. The idea of New Year’s resolutions is full of hope. Despite what is out of our control, despite the pain, we see in the world and in our lives, there is still potential. There is still hope that we can start again and make a change. Perhaps that is why year after year we set out on this ritual even if we won’t follow through. It is the idea of the fresh start and trying again which appeals to us. We desire to improve our lives and ourselves. This is why we see the same themes year after year in our resolutions. We commit to exercise more, lose weight and eat healthier. We want to spend more time with family and friends, travel, or even pick up a new hobby. We commit to these new healthier habits while cutting down on the less healthy ones like drinking or smoking. 

Central to each of these is a drive for self-improvement. Despite what we went through over the past year, as we ring in the New Year we still set goals and look at making a fresh start. We believe that we can make a difference and be a better version of ourselves. We decide once again to focus on what really matters, reprioritize, and focus once more on that wonderful fresh start. It is a time for reflection and for resolution. As we ring in 2018, here are some ways that we can help ourselves as we set out with these resolutions. Many have studied the process of change and perhaps that is the best place to start, understanding that change is a process. As we all know from experience, lasting change requires long-term effort and intention. We may be able to stick with a fad diet for 30 days but to really impact our lifestyle and life choices we begin the process of implementing that change into our lives over time. Change takes time. Change takes intention. Change takes continual effort and the willingness to start over many times.

William Miller, the developer of Motivational Interviewing, stated, “Ambivalence is simultaneously wanting and not wanting something, or wanting both of two incompatible things. It has been human nature since the dawn of time.” The exploration of our ambivalence towards change is a critical part of the change process. Many times resolutions fail simply because we are not ready for change. We have not fully discovered why we want to change and just as significantly, why we do not want to change. There are reasons we hold on to those negative habits even though we know on some level that they are not good for us. Why do we eat what is not good for us? Why is it so hard to lose weight and change our lives? Why do we struggle so much to let go of the people, places, and things that are not adding to or bringing fulfillment to our lives? These are all important questions to examine when we are in the process of setting our resolutions and intentions for the New Year. Perhaps we need to explore these within ourselves or with a close friend. Perhaps it is time to seek out professional help to uncover the roots of the patterns that keep us stuck. Whichever path we decide, it is an important part of the change process. We need to consider these elements:

  1. Our readiness for change 
  2. What the barriers to change are 
  3. The reality of setbacks 

For all of us who have attempted to make a significant change, we know these to be important realities. We need to be ready to change. We need to assess what barriers there are to making that change and then we need to prepare for setbacks and accept that they are just part of the process. There will be many ups and downs over the course of the upcoming year. Who knows what curveballs life will throw at us. When we are hit with the unknown or high stress, it is easy to revert back to our old habits. That is why we have to be prepared for the missteps and the days that we get off track. However, if we go in expecting this then we will also know the way back. We can find our way back to our original goal and intent. Write about it, talk to a friend about it, and make it known so that when you do have days where it is foggy and you feel a little lost you will have a reminder and people who can support you in your journey. 

Take advantage of the New Year. Set the goal and make the resolution. Be bold about the intent you have for yourself for the next year. It is a wonderful and beautiful process to allow the idea of a new beginning to give you hope and prospects. Just remember it is a process and a journey. You will have setbacks. This is part of the change process. Ask for help if needed and be kind to yourself along the way. Reflect on the journey and lessons from 2017 and welcome 2018 with open arms and for what you will find and discover about yourself along the way. T.S. Eliot said, “What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.” This is a perfect way to think about the end of one year and the beginning of another. We can always start again. So here’s to a beautiful start for all of us. Happy New Year!