How Our Thoughts Can Impact Behavior

In last week’s blog, we focused on the idea that what we think can influence how we feel. The focus of last week was mostly on the relationship between thoughts and emotions, while this week I want to focus mostly on how those thoughts and emotions can also influence our behavior. In a quick review, from a Cognitive-Behavior Therapy perspective, the thoughts that we have about events can cause us to feel emotions, which can influence behavior.

Let’s consider a common example of the “event-thoughts-emotions-behavior” cycle in action. You are standing in line at the grocery store (event) and have the thought, “I always pick the slowest line,” which causes you to feel annoyed (emotion) so you change lines to a few rows down (behavior).

This everyday example highlights how often the event-thoughts-emotions-behavior cycle is in action throughout our daily lives. But perhaps it is the more “charged” cycles that stand out to you – those cycles that cause anxiety to flare, conflict to occur in relationships, or when it involves someone or something that matters to you in life.

Here are three ways that our thoughts and emotions can influence behavior:

(In typically problematic ways)


Avoidance occurs when we make efforts to not experience an event, thought, feeling, or sensation. We often avoid because there is something feared about whatever we are trying to avoid. Other times we may avoid because we think we wouldn’t be able to cope with the experience, or that we don’t have the skills necessary to cope well.

For example, if you have social anxiety and fear judgment from others whenever you’re in groups, you may avoid going to any holiday parties so that you can avoid any risk of feeling judged.

Avoidance behavior can also be disguised by “safety behaviors.” These are more subtle forms of avoidance. Going back to our example, even though you feel anxious in social settings, you decide to go to the party. However, you spend most of the evening on your phone. Spending the evening on your phone could be an example of a safety behavior because you’re not avoiding the party altogether, but you’re also not interacting with anyone (aka – avoidance).

Avoidance can sometimes be an unhelpful way of coping with anxiety, depression, or in relationships. If you commonly use the word, “procrastinate” to describe your behavior, it is possible that you may be, at times, avoiding. While it may seem helpful in the moment to avoid what we fear or do not want to experience, it can make the fear worse over time and prevent us from learning better ways to cope. Avoidance can stand in the way of anxiety, depression, or other issues getting better.

Reassurance Seeking

Reassurance seeking occurs when we continuously attempt to gather information from others that we already know. We may turn to others for reassurance because we are overwhelmed with worry or concern about something in particular.

For example, you made a mistake at work. Your boss has told you twice not to worry and the issue has been resolved. But you are having trouble letting it go. You are criticizing yourself for making the mistake and feel very worried that your boss is mad at you. You ‘check-in’ with him a few more times just to make sure he is not mad. Continuously going to your boss could be reassurance seeking if it is done with the hopes of eliminating your anxiety.

Reassurance seeking can be an unhelpful way of coping with anxiety, obsessive-compulsive thoughts, or with relationship distress. If we find ourselves constantly turning to others in hopes that what they say will eliminate our worry, it may be a sign of reassurance seeking. While it can alleviate distress in the moment when we hear what we want to hear, it can make anxiety worse over time and can prevent us from learning more helpful ways to cope with difficult thoughts and emotions. Reassurance seeking can stand in the way of anxiety, obsessive-compulsive thoughts, or relationship problems getting better.


Isolation occurs when we block ourselves off from our outside world and relationships. Thoughts of low self-worth, guilt, or shame could contribute to isolating behavior. We could also isolate because we don’t have the energy to engage, or because we don’t feel confident or liked.

For example, you have felt low for a few weeks now. You’re feeling really tired and aren’t too interested in attending the holiday parties with your friends. It seems like too much effort to get dressed up, so you decide it’s easier to stay home.

Isolation can be an unhelpful way of coping with depression or anxiety. If we find ourselves consistently disconnecting from people and things we used to enjoy or feel too overwhelmed by fear to engage with daily life, we could be engaging in isolating behaviors. While it may feel like a relief to be on our own, isolation could make depression or anxiety worse because it can prevent us from connecting with things that may add value and happiness to life – like friends and good food. Isolation can stand in the way of depression or anxiety getting better.

Do you notice a theme? If we consistently rely on behaviors like avoidance, reassurance seeking, or isolation to cope, we may be maintaining or worsening our problems while also not learning better ways to cope. Luckily, with practice, we can train our brains to engage in more helpful ways of thinking which could benefit our emotional and behavioral reactions. If we were thinking….

  • “People are probably more focused on enjoying the party than judging me.”

  • “My boss said the problem is solved, so that is all I can do now.”

  • “I want to go to the party because I want to see my friend.”

Our behavior could follow along….

  • We may go to the party

  • We might drop the worry

  • We may have fun

We can break patterns that no longer Serve us.

It is okay to change.

Let’s Grow

There are many strategies and skills that can be learned and practiced which can help us shift our patterns of thinking to be more helpful, which may help us modify our behavior to be more in line with how we want to behave. With practice, we can break old patterns of behavior and embrace behavior that supports feeling like our best selves. If you would like to learn more in therapy, reach out for a free 15-minute informational consultation. I want to support my clients on their journey.

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Disclaimer: Please note that visiting this website does not constitute a doctor-client therapeutic relationship. The information and resources included or linked on this website are for informational purposes only and are not intended to assess, diagnose, or treat any medical and/or mental health disease or condition. The information obtained from this site should not be considered a substitute for a thorough medical and/or mental health evaluation by an appropriately credentialed and licensed professional. We do not know the specifics of your situation or have the facts to provide this type of evaluation and recommend that you seek an appropriately credentialed and licensed professional to establish a doctor-client therapeutic relationship. This website also includes links to other websites for informational and reference purposes only. This website does not endorse, warrant or guarantee the products, services or information described or offered at these other websites.

Wright, J. H., Basco, M. R., & Thase, M. E. (2006). Learning Cognitive-Behavior Therapy. American Psychiatric Publishing, Inc. Arlington, VA.


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