Thinking Model

How does your thinking influence your relationship to the world?  The Thinking Model explains how we are triggered and react so strongly to a seemingly inconsequential event. This model was inspired by James R. Bettman’s book “An Information Processing Theory of Consumer Choice”. Currently at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business,  Bettmans area of expertise (backed by years of research)is in understanding the decisions a consumer makes when choosing the products they buy. At the time of its publication in 1979 this book represented cutting knowledge into how to control the consumer’s decision-making powers.  The findings in this book can also be used to make sense of the thought process in general and how things are recorded in memory.  Along with the Biochemical Model that describes how we become emotionally triggered, this is significant because now that we know how our emotional triggers are created, we can change them and even get rid of them.

To describe this model imagine a horizontal line dividing a piece of paper.  The region above the line would be everything that is happening outside of you in the world.  Everything below the line is what is happening in your mind or your memory.  It is also your feelings.  Suppose we could view an external event happening above the line in your world.  As that event happens, and you make sense of it, you start to record this in your long-term memory and we would see activity occurring below the line.

If this external event triggers an emotional response then you may be experiencing the event from one or more of your five senses.  Your sense of smell, taste, sight, sound or touch can all trigger feelings. Let’s say this external event triggers you to feel defensive.  The only way you can know the feeling of defensiveness is if you had that feeling before or you wouldn’t have a name for it.  So, some time in your past, you felt defensive.  That past feeling is stored in the region under the line, which is also inside your brain/body, in a “thought structure”.

Another way to understand thought structures is by taking that feeling of defensiveness and following it back to the first time you ever felt defensive.  That is your first “meaning node” of the feeling defensive.  Now if you take that feeling and take a picture of every time you ever had that feeling, and put that pile of pictures out in front of you, what you are looking at is a “thought structure”.

When you think of being defensive as a kid, what other feelings can you name? Maybe criticized, annoyed, stupid, or not good enough.  All of these feelings have original “meaning nodes” too and their thought structures are also connected to the thought structure of defensive. That means that each of these feelings can and may be triggered multiple ways.  If something triggers you to feel defensive you may also feel “not good enough” and you are feeling more than just today’s hurt, you are accessing all the hurt you have ever had in that thought structure. That is why a person may react so strongly to a seemingly inconsequential event and together these feeling will get in the way of their ability to experience a vibrant and healthy life.

The above process informally outlines the crux of Bettman’s theory—i.e., you construct a meaning node when an emotionally significant event occurs that cannot be related to something else.  This information and its associated feeling have been determined of enough importance to store as learning.  Our mind is much more complicated than a computer and it stores vital information with its associated strong emotional content in order to protect our survival.  It knows how to sort, categorize, generalize and retrieve information without our conscious awareness.  But when that emotional content pops up as triggers at inappropriate times, we need to update our mind’s operating system with the information it needs to work for us and not against us.

You can learn more about this by attending an Emotionology meetup group or training.