How Does our Thinking Affect our Mental State?

Aviva Barnett
March 29, 2018

We establish our mood based on where we are in our thinking.  An example may be if we have regrets about our past, i.e. I should not have worn that dress to my sister’s wedding, or I should have spoken up more at my work meeting. The ‘should have’s ‘ , the ‘ could have’s’ and the ‘would have’s’ as I put them point to our past thinking.  I asked an elderly man once what lesson can we teach the younger generation about life? To which he smiled and replied “live it”.  I question how much we are really living life, if we are consumed with thoughts from our past. I once read the quote “ Don’t let your past dictate how you are, let it help to shape who you become.”  Our past is a part of our story, hence the word history. If we are all consumed with the should have’s we are not living in the present moment, hence our quality of life in that moment is impaired. Perhaps we ought to ‘stop thinking and start living’, as Carlson(1997) encourages us to.

woman thinking

Let’s now look forward . An example of futuristic thinking may be “ How will I….? “, or “ What will happen when…..? “  or “ Will it be like…?.” These questions lead us to a sense of panic and anxiety because we face uncertainty. Nobody has a handle on the future, so when we try to anticipate it or plan for it we give ourselves a false sense of security thinking we can cope. If we are frightened of the future it is so incredibly difficult to keep going, keep putting one foot in front of the other. Sometimes we need to have the ‘courage to be’. Fear of the future robs us of our present moment, catastrophising thoughts and worries leave us with a racing heart beat, and sweaty palms. If we truly had confidence, that whatever comes our way we can manage, then naturally the anxiety would reduce.

If we do not go to the past thinking the “should have’s , could have’s and would have’s , “ and also do not go to the futuristic thinking represented by the “ how will, what will’s” we are only left with one option. The Now!

The present really is a gift, it is all we really have anyway , so let’s embrace it. When we get carried away with the past or futuristic thinking, hold back and ask yourself “ Where am  I now in my thinking?” Once you have established that you are in either the past or future allow yourself to gently shift back to the present.  Ask yourself, ‘ How do I feel right now? ‘ If you pay attention and accept how you feel in the present you will be left with a sense of calm.

We are always in a mood according to Martin Heidegger the existential philosopher, and being in a mood is neither good nor bad, it just is that. The important thing is to catch ourselves in our thoughts and give ourselves permission to let the fear of the future, and sadness from the past dissipate. Mindfulness teaches us to practice being in the present moment.  Giving yourself the present of time to learn this useful technique enables us to get used to more present tense thinking.


Carlson, R. (1997) Stop thinking and start living. Thorsons

Tillich, P (1952) The courage to be.  Yale University Press

Wililams, M (2011) Mindfulness: A practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world. Piatkus

Aviva Barnett

Aviva Keren Barnett (PgD, M.A ) is a UKCP registered existential psychotherapist and counselor.