Did you know that your well-being has a lot to do with your thoughts? Not only what you think, but also how you think. A psychologist, Joan Rosenberg, helped me understand how I can drag myself down with irrational thinking patterns. Essentially, I can now focus on calm thoughts and contentment to replace thoughts of disappointment, anxiety and anger. Likewise, I can recognize cynical, pessimistic and negative content in my thoughts and think more accepting, optimistic and positive thoughts.
Irrational thinking is cognitive distortions
In a book, Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy, psychiatrist David Burns explains that many people’s thoughts leave them unhappy about their lives and even experiencing depression. If you tend to think irrationally, you could have a low view of yourself. Essentially, such thinking errors could limit your interest in making personal connections with others and even cause a total lack of desire to pursue goals.
Identify your own irrational thinking
Joan Rosenberg lists five types of cognitive distortions and ideas of how to reverse them to be positive. If you can identify the thoughts that drag you down, it is an excellent way to start working on replacing them with constructive thought patterns. However, it is a process that will take some effort from you. You can only work on addressing them once you can catch yourself thinking distorted thoughts.
Are you guilty of all-or-nothing thinking?
Instead of only black and white, our lives contain many shades of gray. If your thoughts allow no complexity, you may have to make some effort to find all the possible categories between the best and the worst, or amazing and boring. For example, you refuse to step onto the dance floor. In your mind, the fact that you are not an expert dancer means that you will make a fool of yourself.
The challenge is for you to identify all-of-nothing thinking instances and focus on finding the shades of gray. Do not lose patience with yourself if, at first, you can only see one shade of gray between white and black. Once you are aware of the possibilities, you will likely find more options. You could start by agreeing to one dance and then rethink sitting down instead of having fun and enjoying yourself.
Would you say your thinking was overgeneralizing?
Overgeneralizing happens when you apply general rules across unrelated situations. Also, if those rules are mostly negative and not positive. For instance, if you fail to secure your dream job and think it is because nobody likes you, you will die as a lonely person.
To eliminate those overgeneralizing thoughts, you must convince yourself that each situation’s outcome is unique. New situations are not subject to indiscriminate linking to past outcomes.
Do you disqualify positive occurrences?
What are your thinking patterns when someone pays you a compliment? Imagine your boss praises you for a job well done. Your thoughts should be positive and encouraging to do even better next time. However, if you suffer from this cognitive distortion, you would brush it off, thinking the praise was not genuine but only empty words.
Disqualifying positives will reinforce your negative thoughts about your entire world and yourself. The best way to start working on accepting and even enjoying praise is to say “I appreciate the compliment” or a sincere “Thank you.” That will allow you to replay the praising words in your mind and learn to believe your own worth.
Do you personalize responsibility excessively?
If you are quick to accept responsibility for everything that goes wrong, you are likely guilty of personalizing responsibility. For example, if you book a table at a restaurant for a family outing and then arrive to learn that there is no booking. If you immediately say it is all your fault without considering any other reasons, you need to work on changing your mindset. Imagine booking accommodation for the family’s vacation, and then the weather changes to days of rain. Would you blame yourself for the rainy weather?
If you do, you need to accept that, despite your deep desire to be the responsible and useful parent, friend, spouse and employee, you are not to blame for everything. You are not responsible for matters that you cannot control. It would be best if you considered all the things that could have gone wrong that had nothing to do with you. For instance, the restaurant booking problem could be a software problem, an error made by the restaurant clerk, and more.
Are you inclined to “should”-ing on yourself?
If internal dialogue with yourself frequently includes “should,” “must” and “ought to,” you might experience feelings of anger or frustration. “Should”-ing sets excessively high expectations for yourself. If your boss asks you to have a report ready on Monday, you need not make yourself have it done by Friday or feel like a failure.
Take note of every time your thoughts include these three phrases of constriction or constraint. Then make an effort to replace “should,” “must” and “ought to” with “can,” “decide to” or “choose to.”
To sum up
Once you recognize these distortions in your thinking, you can work on decreasing them. It is a process that could lead you to a life full of expression. Owning them can help you to break thinking patterns that produce distractions and artificial constraints. You will discover the ability to respond instead of reacting to situations. Your emotional flexibility will improve, and you will develop the resilience to accept difficult situations and bounce back.