Learning to listen to our self-talk or automatic thoughts is an important skill. If we can learn to pay attention to these thoughts, we can decide whether or not they are helpful (Giarratano, 2004b).
The ‘Look, Think, Act’ Process
What and how you think influences your feelings. Positive thoughts make you feel happy and energise you, while negative thoughts make you feel sad and drain your energy. Thoughts can drift into your head uninvited and you may think you cannot control their entry. Thousands of thoughts enter and exit our mind every day; we don't pay attention to many of them. We can control our thoughts and place them consciously in or out of our mind. How much space and time you give a thought in our mind is your choice and decision.
The core component of a model of group work for working with adult survivors of childhood abuse developed by van Loon & Kralik (2005) focuses on the ‘Look, Think, Act’ process:
- 1. Look: What’s going on? What’s happening? What’s happening inside you? What are your responses? What are the circumstances? Describe the context: What are your thoughts ? How long did you mull over the event afterwards?
- 2. Think: How do I feel about that? What’s the main problem? Why is this happening? What was the trigger or cause (e.g. attitudes, beliefs, past experiences)? What are the consequences? How am I behaving (e.g. are my responses defensive, grounded in my past)? Which area/s can I move forward with? How might my moving forward look? When should I begin – what order...? How should I do it?
- 3. Act: By ‘Act’ we mean to take action, or do something. A good place to start is to think about what could/should be done differently to get the desired outcome. Then begin to action the smallest and most easily managed act that would have the most benefit.
As explained by van Loon & Kralik (2005), we all have thoughts, feelings and attitudes about our current experiences. These thoughts and feelings give rise to emotions such as love, fear, anger, hatred, sadness, sorrow and so on, which need to be recognized and acknowledged. Emotions trigger our behaviours and responses and at times these can be self-rejecting reactive responses, arising from the experiences of past trauma. Every response, whether we’ve thought it through or not, has a consequence, and these consequences impact other people and situations, or ourselves. Some consequences can be anticipated while others are unanticipated and unintentional. This process pervades everything we do every day. Our behaviours and reactions to these effects make us modify our behaviours.
The ‘Look, Think, Act’ process helps us to work out what’s going on by focusing on changing our thinking, so we can alter our behaviours and responses to influence our preferred outcomes (van Loon & Kralik, 2005).
The ‘Look, Think, Act’ process informs our choices and helps us work out what we want to modify in our thoughts, feelings, attitudes or behaviours and choose responses more thoughtfully. Even pretending nothing is happening, not responding, or running away, is a choice which has consequences. Withdrawing to think or regroup is also a valid choice and can be both safe and useful. However, ignoring or pretending that nothing is happening decreases our ability to influence the outcome, while leaving us with the consequences of doing nothing (van Loon & Kralik, 2005).
You may notice that as you become aware of your own responses and reactions, and the responses of those around you, the more you use the ‘look, think, act’ process, the better you become at controlling your reactions to another person’s response. You stop taking everything so personally and your capacity to tolerate people’s behaviour increases.