Thursday, 12 August 2010

Unhelpful Thinking

We all go through a whole lot of bad situations in our lives. There are the really horrid ones that you doubt that you will even survive and then... shock horror... you do. Unless you go and jump off a 42 metre high building (yes, that's the minimum certain fatality height) then you should be ok. Ruling out accidents, freaks of nature and bad company, you are left as the one thing that can hurt you.

We have all seen it. The friend who is so expectant of the Universe ganging up against them, along with Gaia, the Grim Reaper and the most evil of all - the ATO. Every single little thing that happens is awful and was bound to happen to them. They focus so hard on it that when it happens, they are almost happy.

Do you remember that song by Garbage that starts with the line: "I'm only happy when it rains"? That is what it is to watch these people in action. The funniest thing about this is that I watched one person do this so often that the only thing that could change her mindset was going to cognitive therapy and finding out that "the universe being out to get you" is a form of negative thinking. There are ten main types of negative thought. It took one look at the list to make that girl aware of the fact that the first thought to enter your mind is not always the right one.

That silly girl was me. She is much nicer to herself now. Very positive and kind. She has her moments but on the whole, that thinking has stopped.

Here is an excerpt from the Happiness Institute's "Unhelpful Thinking" publication.

  1. Overgeneralisation: Coming to a general conclusion based on a single event or one piece of evidence. If something bad happens once, you expect it to happen again and again. Such thoughts often include the words “always” and “never”.
    I forgot to finish that project on time. I never do things right.
    He didn’t want to go out with me. I’ll always be lonely.
  2. Filtering (Selective Abstraction): Concentrating on the negatives while ignoring the positives. Ignoring important information that contradicts your (negative) view of the situation.
    I know he [my boss] said most of my submission was great but he also said there were a number of mistakes that had to be corrected...he must think I’m really hopeless.
  3. All or Nothing Thinking (Dichotomous Reasoning): Thinking in black and white terms (e.g., things are right or wrong, good or bad). A tendency to view things at the extremes with no middle ground.
    I made so many mistakes. If I can’t do it perfectly I might as well not bother.
    I won’t be able to get all of this done, so I may as well not start it.
    This job is so bad...there’s nothing good about it at all.
  4. Personalising: Taking responsibility for something that’s not your fault. Thinking that what people say or do is some kind of reaction to you, or is in some way related to you.
    John’s in a terrible mood. It must have been something I did.
    It’s obvious she doesn’t like me, otherwise she would’ve said hello.
  5. Catastrophising: Overestimating the chances of disaster. Expecting something unbearable or intolerable to happen.
    I’m going to make a fool of myself and people will laugh at me.
    What if I haven’t turned the iron off and the house burns down.
    If I don’t perform well, I’ll get the sack.
  6. Emotional Reasoning: Mistaking feelings for facts. Negative things you feel about yourself are held to be true because they feel true.
    I feel like a failure, therefore I am a failure.
    I feel ugly, therefore I must be ugly.
    I feel hopeless, therefore my situation must be hopeless.
  7. Mind Reading: Making assumptions about other people’s thoughts, feelings and behaviours without checking the evidence.
    John’s talking to Molly so he must like her more than me.
    I could tell he thought I was stupid in the interview.
  8. Fortune Telling Error: Anticipating an outcome and assuming your prediction is an established fact. These negative expectations can be self-fulfilling: predicting what we would do on the basis of past behaviour may prevent the possibility of change.
    I’ve always been like this; I’ll never be able to change.
    It’s not going to work out so there’s not much point even trying.
    This relationship is sure to fail.
  9. Should Statements: Using “should”, “ought”, or “must” statements can set up unrealistic expectations of yourself and others. It involves operating by rigid rules and not allowing for flexibility.
    I shouldn’t get angry.
    People should be nice to me all the time.
  10. Magnification/Minimisation: A tendency to exaggerate the importance of negative information or experiences, while trivialising or reducing the significance of positive information or experiences.
    He noticed I spilled something on my shirt. I know he said he will go out with me again, but I bet he doesn’t call.
    Supporting my friend when her mother died still doesn’t make up for that time I got angry at her last year.

Do you think like this? I did and still do sometimes. You have to identify that these are negative thoughts and learn to negate them by using techniques like evidence gathering and safe checking.

My suggestion is that if these thoughts dominate your thinking then you might benefit from similar cognitive therapy to what I had. It's hard work to change how you think. When you start, it's tiring to even try but try you must.

Actually, Yoda said it best: "Do or do not. There is no try". I always liked him better than Garbage anyway.


David Moxham said...

Wise and insightful, your blog covers many of the ways I thought when I was younger. Things are much better now that I have declared peace with myself.

Alice said...

I love this.

Anonymous said...

Your mind is brilliant!

I love the way you gave a quick description, as well as a pretty picture to emphasise the point.

Can you come and present at my next motivational staff meeting? :)

Kodo said...

I understand why you asked me to have a read of this. I admit I do fall under some of those categories and understand why you get frustrated talking to me at times.

Maybe I should see somone about more positive thinking and maybe turning my life around a bit.

ScubaNurse said...

thank you thank you!
I learnt a really handy short process.

"is this thought true?"
"is it helping me toward my goals?"
"is there anything I can do about it?"

if you get through all of those you can dwell. beyond that, chuck it.
Its helped me out several times on the edge of panic attack.

thanks for your words.