Automatic Thought Model (ATM)

Your brain NEVER stops thinking, as I said in this article about our thoughts. It’s constantly generated thoughts, and all the automatically generated thoughts are called automatic thoughts (You don’t say).

Here is what I find out about these automatic thoughts through years of meditation, I call it the Automatic Thought Model (ATM):

Automatic thoughts consist of 2 parts: Thought Trigger and Thought Chain. 

There are three kinds of thought triggers: 

  • Things happened recently that triggered your emotion (unfair, angry, interesting, happy…)
  • Things you are about to do that trigger your emotion (worried, excited…)
  • Things happening right now that draw your attention (something you hear, see…)

Thought triggers are facts or memory

Then follows the thought chain. The thought chain consists of a chain of thoughts, linked by the connections that the brain formed between them. Unlike the thought trigger, thoughts in the thought chain are not only facts or memory, but also cognitive thinking, such as imagination, planning, reasoning, creative thinking, or problem-solving thoughts. The chain of thoughts can happen very fast, dozens of thoughts can happen in a blink, and often out of your awareness. 

The Automatic Thought Model ends in one of two ways: 

  • Another thought trigger pops up and triggers another thought chain. 
  • You notice and break it actively, relocating your attention somewhere else (For example, meditation.)

An example

Thought trigger: You see a banana on your desk (Fact). 

Thought chain: 

→ Eat it? Eh…Not right now (Reasoning) 

→ That youtuber  XXX likes to use banana as a symbol (Memory) 

→ She likes to break it at the end of each video (Memory)

→ It’s been a long time since she last posted (Reasoning) 

→ What’s she doing now? (Problem-solving) 

→ Maybe making songs (Imagining) 

→ Oh I miss Kent (Another Scandinavian band) (Memory)

→ Their last live performance is so moving (Memory)

→ Last time I saw live performing, I spilled beverage on that beautiful girl (Memory)

→ Damn, I don’t have a girlfriend now (Fact)

→ This loneliness could kill me, according to that TED video I watched the other day (Memory) 

→ What if I join a book club to meet girls? (Imagining, creative thinking)

How To Live is a great book (Reasoning)

→ ……

All this could happen in just seconds, and this could go on for a while until you notice and break it, or another thought trigger pops up and trigger another thought chain. 

Two characteristics of the ATM

  • You won’t notice the thought chain right after the thought trigger, but only after several chain thoughts have already happened. 
  • The more mindful you are, the more your thought triggers are close to the present, and the earlier you can notice the thought chain. For people with mental problems such as anxiety, thought triggers tend to be things further in the past or future, and they tend to be carried away further by automatic thoughts. 

Why thought triggers have to be things that trigger our emotions or attention

Millions of stimulation happen to you every day, the things that trigger our emotions or draw our attention are what our brain thinks are important for your survival. 

Why the thought chain? Why not just one thought?  

That’s how the brain learns and forms thought models, by forming connections between different information. 

So, why does this ATM thing matter?

To be honest, I don’t know. This is just something deeper and more detailed I found about our thoughts, and understanding our thoughts is a major base for dealing with our traumas and self-help ourselves to live a happier life.

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