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Do you often think you know what others are thinking about you?
Do you generalize specific occurrences? For example: If they do not invite you to a party, do you wonder if you are unlikeable?
Do you personalize generic comments? For example, you think a passing a remark about the benefits of healthy eating is a criticism of how you eat?
Do you sometimes blame others for your own thoughts or actions? For example, “If he hadn’t said this, I wouldn’t have reacted that way.”
If you said yes, you are pretty normal. These positive answers show that all of us are vulnerable to distorted thinking, which may account for some of our life challenges.
We continuously have thoughts swirling around in our heads. In her book, Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway Susan Jeffers calls this enormous mass of constant thoughts our ‘chatterbox’. Unfortunately, this chatterbox seems to preoccupy our thoughts much of the time.
There are three general categories of thoughts.
1. Positive/constructive such as: thinking about something good that happened or looking forward to a fun event.
2. Neutral thoughts such as: considering what to wear, or wondering whether to mow the lawn today.
3. Negative thoughts. These can make us interpret circumstances or events with a pessimistic slant. As a result, this negative interpretation can cause us to feel anxious or sad.
Negative thoughts impact us the most.
The most significant impact on our lives comes from our negative thoughts. These are the thoughts we need to be aware of and either replace with more balanced thoughts or eliminate.
Some of these negative thoughts pop into our heads without help from us. These automatic negative thoughts (ANTs) seem to lurk in the shadows of our minds, no matter how much we wish they’d go away.
Unfortunately, these ANTs have a powerful effect on both how you feel and what you do. Negative thoughts such as “I can’t handle this” or “No one likes me.” can make you feel unhappy or anxious and, as a result, impact how you choose to behave.
Of course, some negative thoughts result from actual events, but lots of them are simply assumptions.
To illustrate, let’s say you’ve emailed your boss with a suggestion. Days later, you’ve still not heard from her. You decide that she purposely overlooked your idea because she doesn’t like you, which causes you to wonder if your job is in jeopardy. As a result, you decide to never offer a suggestion again.
As you can see, your negative thoughts often lead to negative assumptions that compound your mistaken thinking, making your problems even worse.
Don’t block your negative thoughts.
Studies show that trying to control your thinking by blocking out negative thoughts doesn’t work. Not only is it not sustainable, but blocking can also cause you to think even more about the very thing you want to avoid.
Try this :
Picture a purple cow eating grass in your front yard. Now, for one minute, don’t think of the purple cow. Think about the report you have to finish or the conversation with a co-worker, anything but the purple cow.
What happened? Most likely, it didn’t work.
Purple cows aren’t important to you, in fact, I doubt you ever think about them. Nonetheless, when asked to block thoughts of the purple cow, it wasn’t possible. This is because ‘what we resist, persists’.
The good news is we don’t have to get stuck in negativity.
Three steps to counterbalance negative thoughts
1. Recognize your negative thought. This isn’t always easy because negative thoughts often appear to be rational truths. As a result, we rarely question them but instead, let them chatter away in our heads.
2. Re-evaluate your negative thought by questioning its validity. Is this a
fact or an assumption? We need to dispute the idea that, ‘if think it, it must be true.’
3. Replace your negative thought with rational and open-minded alternatives instead of faulty, concrete, and negative thoughts.
Your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors all feed off each other. This negative feeding frenzy can cause your unhappiness to increase and last longer.
To sum it up, your viewpoint isn’t always the truth. Even if your viewpoint has merit, it is not a fact. Recognizing, re-evaluating, and replacing your thoughts will help you feel better and become more optimistic.
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