How is Your Thinking?

There are ten ways we can think that can lead to negative feelings. Check are you in the habit of negative thinking and if so catch yourself and make changes.

1.    It’s All-or-nothing. If things don’t go exactly to plan then you decide that it’s a total failure and give up. If starting to learn a new skill or subject, you find it difficult and you say to yourself “I am no good at …. I am not going to bother, there’s no point”- This thought can cause you to stop trying.

2.    Over-generalising. You see a negative event such as failing a driving test or being turned down romantically as “the story of my life”.  You use terms such as “always” and “never” when describing events.  The lights are “always red when I get to them” or” I’ll never find someone.”

3.    Mental Blinkers.  You complete a presentation but all you remember are the critical comments that are made and you dwell on them and ignore the positive feedback you get.

  You ignore your beautiful features and dwell on the parts of your body that you are not happy with and as a result you deny yourself contentment.

4.     Dismissing and forgetting the positive: Anything positive that happens doesn’t really count. When someone admires your outfit you reply “what this old thing…”

When you complete a task or assignment you tell yourself that “it wasn’t good enough” or “it was no big deal.” This attitude makes you feel inadequate and unrewarded.

5.    Jumping to conclusions – you take a negative spin on events or comments or others’ behaviour without checking out the facts.

Mind reading: someone you know passes you in the street without saying “Hello” and you conclude that they are annoyed with you.

Fortune-telling: you predict a negative outcome before the event. “I am going to fail this exam. “I’ll make a mess of this”. “I’ll never get better”.

6.    Blowing things out of proportion.  You magnify the size of your problems saying “It’s a disaster “when the problem is solvable.  Then you minimise the significance of your good qualities and competencies.

7.    I feel it so it must be the case. Assuming that because you feel a certain way this reflects reality. “I feel so nervous about my presentation. This is a sign I am not ready to go through with it.” “I feel terrified about heights so it must be dangerous to go up The Eiffel Tower.” “I feel guilty. I must be a selfish person.” “I feel inferior. This means I am not as good as everyone else.” “I feel hopeless. I must be hopeless”

8.    I should, have to, must: these are demand words. “People should have manners.”” They should treat me better.” This attitude leads to feelings of anger and frustration. “I should have worked harder. “ This statement leads to feelings of guilt and frustration. Using "shoulds" and "shouldn’ts" can lead to an internal struggle. If someone is telling themselves they shouldn’t eat that cake they often become preoccupied by the object they should be avoiding and end up eating the cake.

9.    Labelling. Labels can be so damaging. Instead of saying “I did a stupid thing” you say” I am stupid.”  It is important to distinguish between your being and your behaviour. You are not the same as what you do. We are all human not “fools”, “losers” “failures”. When we label ourselves we feel angry, frustrated, and develop low self-esteem.

We can also label others-“He’s a rotten so and so. “This leaves no room for improvement because you have written the person off instead of criticising their behaviour. Labelling leaves no room for constructive communication or hope that things may improve.

10. Taking it personally and blaming. Personalisation occurs when you take full responsibility for a situation even though there are other factors and people involved. When a relationship breaks down you say “it was all my fault, I wasn’t good enough." “When the team lose the match you blame yourself entirely. Parents sometimes blame themselves if their children/ teenagers behave badly.” I am a bad parent because my son/daughter has got into trouble.”

Then others do the opposite. They are not willing to taking any responsibility for their problems. It’s all your fault that I am unhappy.”

People who blame others stay stuck and wonder why life isn’t getting better.

How To Work On Your Thinking

1. Write Down Your Thoughts. Check if your thinking is working for you. Are you jumping to conclusions, over-generalising, using mental blinkers etc.? Find and record more reasonable statements.

2. Research the Evidence. Instead of taking your negative thought as an absolute truth, examine the evidence.  If your negative thought is” I always ruin things “, recall and list examples of when things went ok for you.

3. Talk to Yourself as if you were Talking to a Friend. We often are much more compassionate and understanding when communicating with our friends than we are with ourselves.

4.  Tone Down Your Thoughts and Allow Flexibility. Look for what went well in a situation and focus on what you could learn instead of seeing it as a complete disaster or a waste of time.

5. Try an Experiment. This is very helpful if you are inclined to panic. If you are saying to yourself” I am going to have a heart attack,” try running up and down the stairs to prove to yourself that your heart is pumpingadequately.

6. Do a survey. If you found an assignment particularly difficult ask your fellow students how they found it. Often you discover that you are not that different and have sharing experiences with others makes it easier to tolerate stress.

7. Stop Labelling. Label behaviour but not yourself or another. It’s ok to say “I made a mistake,” but not ok to say” I am a loser”. It’s ok to say you are annoyed with someone’s behaviour but not ok to call them a name.

8. Swap Should for Could. It takes the pressure away. Instead of “I should get some exercise you can say “It would be good for me to get some exercise”. This shift in how you talk to yourself can make all the difference.

9. Look at Problem from Different Angles. Instead of taking all the responsibility for a problem, explore the many factors that could have contributed to it. Focus on finding a solution to the problem instead of wasting energy on blaming.

10. Cost-Benefit Analysis.  Write out the advantages and disadvantages of a feeling e.g. feeling agitated when delayed in a queue. Do acost-benefit analysis on holding onto a negative thought such as “nothing goes right for me “or an unhealthybehavioursuch as withdrawing from friends when you are depressed or overeating whenyou are down. It is also useful to use a Cost-benefit analysis to challenge a self-defeating belief such as, “I must be the best in the group.”