The ingredients of a thought

Psychology is a funny old business because it’s essentially thinking about thinking. Sometimes it’s even thinking about thinking about thinking. You can already see how it helps to have a sense of humour about it. But when you break it down, what is a thought?


On a biological level, it's an electrical impulse sort of ‘jumping onto’ a chemical and travelling along a microscopic pathway in a large chunk of wet meat. Amazing to think that such a bizarre practice translates into you considering where you want to go for your holidays.

To address the question in a more helpful way; I prefer to talk about the ‘ingredients’, as if a thought is a recipe for a delicious dish.

The aromatics:

  • Visual: imagined/remembered mental pictures
  • Audio: self-talk/inner monologue

These are the garlic and onions of the brain, as they are in most ‘thought recipes’. It should be noted that I said most, not all. Some people either don’t engage much with their inner monologue or have their own unique way of experiencing a mental image, but they will have a way of understanding or interpreting both stimuli.

When one is particularly stressed, one might say “I don’t have much of an imagination” or “I have quite a poor memory’. This is really very common, as stress and anxiety make it much harder to access the creative, imaginative part of the brain.

The spice

  • Kinaesthetic: emotional reaction

This often gets interpreted as a feeling in the body, like a ‘gut instinct’. Some thoughts have a lot of ‘kick’ to them, especially ones triggered by trauma. Some thoughts just have a dash of salt and pepper, and have no need to overwhelm the taste buds.

The protein

  • Proprioception: where something is in relation to you

This is not an ingredient present in every recipe, but worth considering. Some thoughts can ‘feel’ very close to you. Some inner monologues can be yelling directly into your right ear, or some mental images can be right in front of your face. Alternatively they can be far away, off to the left, in the distance.

The carbohydrate

  • Olfactory: imagined/remembered smell
  • Gustatory: imagined/remembered taste

Fun facts about these two; olfactory is the only sense that completely bypasses the conscious mind and goes straight to the memory. This is why smelling a certain scent can transport you back to childhood, or to a specific time or place. Gustatory is a curious one, because we can instinctively understand what it feels like to have any item in our mouth without actually having to lick it. Again, not present in every thought, but when it is, it can be significant.

The reason why I’m laying it out like this is simple; awareness is the first step to control. You can’t adjust the content of a recipe if you don’t understand the ingredients. Sometimes bringing awareness to a certain aspect will allow you adapt it, or more significantly, make substitutions.

If a stressful thought comes to you as a concerning mental image, you will notice yourself feeling different about it if you change small aspects of it. Maybe blur certain features or move it further away from you. Perhaps your inner monologue could use some volume control, or would sound less stressful in someone else’s voice. Perhaps that anxiety would feel less heavy if you imagined it moving from your chest down to your stomach, or legs.

The subconscious is a chef, serving up the dishes it thinks you need. You are allowed to ask for substitutions.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Hypnotherapy Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Currie, Midlothian, EH14
Written by Lloyd Robinson, DSFH, HPD, BA (Hons)
Currie, Midlothian, EH14

Lloyd Robinson is a clinical hypnotherapist, motivational speaker, and writer working in South West Edinburgh. You can find more details about his practice at

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