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Recognizing the Mind's Three Distinctive Functions

The mind has three basic functions—thinking, feeling, and wanting (Figures 4.1 & 4.2).

  1. The function of thinking is to create meaning. Thinking makes sense of the events of our lives; it sorts events into named categories and finds patterns for us. It continually tells us: This is what is going on. This is what is happening. Notice this and that. This is how it makes sense to understand the situation. It is the part of the mind that figures things out.

  2. The function of feeling is to monitor or evaluate the meanings created by the thinking function—evaluating how positive and negative the events of our life are, given the meaning we are ascribing to them. It continually tells us: This is how you should feel about what is happening in your life. You're doing really well. Or, alternatively, watch out—you are getting into trouble!

  3. The function of wanting allocates energy to action, in keeping with our definitions of what is desirable and possible. It continually tells us: This is what is worth getting. Go for it! Or, conversely, it tells: This is not worth getting. Don't bother.

Figure 4.1. The three basic functions of the mind are intricately interrelated.

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Figure 4.2. Thinking is the part of the mind that figures out what is going on. Feelings tell us whether things are going well or poorly for us. The wanting part of the mind propels us forward or away from action.

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Looked at this way, our mind is continually communicating three kinds of things to us: 1) what is going on in our life; 2) feelings (positive or negative) about those events; and 3) things to pursue, where to put our energy (in the light of 1 and 2).

What is more, there is an intimate, dynamic interrelation between thinking, feeling, and wanting (Figure 4.3). Each is continually influencing the other two. When, for example, we think we are being threatened, we feel fear, and we inevitably want to flee from or attack whatever we think is threatening us. When we think that attending a meeting will be a waste of time, we will want to avoid attending it and will feel bored if compelled to attend.

Figure 4.3. Thinking, feeling, and wanting are interwoven. Where there is one, the other two are present as well. These three functions continually interact and influence one another in a dynamic process.

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