Tag Archives: unhelpful thinking styles

The power of thought

thought photo

The power of thought

Photo by withbeautiful

Few people realise just how powerful their thinking is. The thoughts you choose to focus on and the beliefs you choose to hold on to as true for you, can create heaven or hell. The power of thought is closely looked at by cognitive behavioural therapists (CBT). It is widely accepted that thoughts lead to feelings and these feelings then influence our behaviour.

If we have negative automatic thoughts, they will lead to negative emotions and the ensuing behaviour will then be in line with those negative feelings.

Example:

THOUGHT: I am unattractive

FEELING: Sadness, anxiety

BEHAVIOUR: Avoidance of the opposite sex, avoid dating etc

If the thought was different but still valid, say for example: “I am not perfect but I have many qualities and characteristics”, the feelings would be more positive. This thought is more neutral and will lead to a happier feeling, say, a feeling of hope. The behaviour from this may be that the person ventures out to meet others.

Our thoughts are often habitual and we don’t even realise the repetitive negative dialogue that is occurring. We limit ourselves when we belittle ourselves and criticise ourselves. One of the cornerstones of CBT is to look at our thinking and get into the habit of questioning the validity of thoughts. Thoughts are nor facts – they are merely our perception of the world. They can be changed and they can be challenged.

CBT therapists challenge thinking by looking at the evidence for the thinking and then consider alternative ways of looking at a situation. Remove the negative automatic thoughts and aim for more neutral interpretations – that one simple trick can overhaul a life from misery to surviving and coping. It is a skill that can be learned. Being an effective ‘thought manager’ is one of the best skills you can ever learn if you care about your state of mind.

Be aware of your ‘mental diet’. What do you tell yourself about the world and about yourself?

Try completing these sentences, without thinking too much about it…

  1. I am…
  2. Others are…
  3. The world is…

The above exercise can sometimes help reveal your underlying thoughts about the world. If ¬†you have answered negatively, you will probably find that you spend a lot of time feeling low. Negative thinking can be toxic – comparing ourselves to others, assuming what other’s might be thinking, over generalising, rigid thinking – all of these types of unhelpful ¬†thinking (and others )are unhelpful and can lead to unnecessary anxiety and depression.

CBT is great because you can see results fairly quickly. The strategies and interventions need to be repeated for them to become part of your natural behaviour but it’s well worth it. Don’t just accept your thoughts without any challenge or evidence- they aren’t always accurate or necessarily based on what is really going on in reality.

Mandy X

 

Dealing with intrusive thoughts

 

intrusive thoughts

Dealing with intrusive thoughts

We all have ‘noise’ going on in our minds. Odd thoughts pop into our minds that surprise us but usually we never act on them. Many of my clients don’t realise that intrusive thoughts happen to all of us. The trick is to realise that thoughts will always keep coming. Learning to filter your thoughts and not pay each thought equal attention is the key to a more contented life. When we focus on the negative thoughts, it can often lead to anxiety and/or depression.

Optimists are very good at buffering themselves from their negative thinking, they are just somehow good at placing less importance on negative self critical thoughts and spend more mental energy on the positive hopeful thoughts.

Imagine that you are a bus driver and you need to drive your bus from A to Destination B. On your bus you have a few intrusive difficult passengers who keep yelling, “What if we get lost?”; “You can’t drive a bus, you’re pathetic!”; “What if we get a flat tyre?”; “What if we have an accident?” or “You’ll never be able to do it”.

What would happen if you listened to these passengers? It would certainly make the task a lot harder and would probably distract you or lead you to avoiding driving the bus altogether.

Our intrusive thoughts are like these passengers on the bus – they can be ignored. If we pay attention to them they distract us and affect our confidence and our behaviour. Learning to focus our attention only on thoughts that are helpful is a skill that takes practise but we are all capable of doing it.

At times, we have to distract ourselves completely in order to stop the thoughts. One clever technique is to practise mindfulness which means being fully present in the moment. To help bring you back to the present moment rather than engaging with mad thoughts in our minds – try this technique:

  1. Look for 5 things you can see around you
  2. Listen our for 4 things you can hear
  3. Three things you can touch
  4. Two things you can smell
  5. One thing you can taste

It’s possible that not all the above will be possible depending on where you are, but engaging as many of your senses as you can leaves your brain with less space for mindless thoughts.

Thoughts are not facts – they are just part of how your brain works. Learn to ignore the thoughts that are unhelpful. Look for evidence of your thinking to ensure you are not assuming or mind reading (imagining you know what other’s are thinking), overgeneralising, catastrophising (thinking about the worse possible scenario) or personalising (eg. assuming someone isn’t talking to you because of something you have done – it could be that they slept badly or have a worry completely unrelated to you that has made them seem unfriendly). All of the above examples are not evidence based yet cause us stress.

Learn to be discerning with your thoughts – many of them are just complete nonsense!

Mandy X

 

Perception vs reality

 

perception photo

Perception vs reality

Think of your perception of reality as your ‘map’. Think of reality as the ‘territory’. Perception vs reality is an important factor in how we live our lives and how successful we are at picking up on what is really going on. Over the years I have listened to many people’s stories, especially all the ways things can go wrong.Our parents teach us what they have learned. Along with this information, comes biases, prejudices and faulty assumptions which leads to our maps not quite fitting the territory. Our perceptions are ultimately distorted and stop fitting reality and this is where many problems come in.

We look for evidence that confirm our beliefs about the world and this, in turn, reinforces our perceptions and distorts what we see. I have seen many clients whose map is so far removed from the territory that they no longer actively engage with the world in a productive way that makes sense. People with severe anxiety and depression often have distorted maps and this causes them to only focus on certain negative aspects of reality in order to make sense of their thoughts and perceptions.

When it comes to perception vs reality, always look for the evidence in reality that supports your thinking/perceptions. This is one way to avoid upsetting and unhelpful thinking from getting the better of us. Cognitive behavioural therapy regularly refers to unhelpful thinking styles that tend to add to our stress. Thoughts such as: black and white (all or nothing) thinking, personalising (blaming ourselves for things that have nothing to do with us), catastrophising, emotional reasoning (I feel upset therefore something MUST be wrong), mind reading (thinking we know what others are thinking) and so on.

We have a lot of flexibility in the thoughts we want to choose to make sense of reality. Make sure you choose these thoughts wisely – ones that are reasonable, based on evidence as much as possible (rather than assumptions) and provide you with positive feelings.

Mandy X

PS. In times of distress, check what you have been telling yourself (your perceptions and thoughts of the reality) and always ask yourself “What can I tell myself that will make me feel better about this situation?” Always look for alternative ways to look at something – they are always there.