Unhelpful Thinking Styles and How to Combat Them.
New research shows our brain generates over 6000 thousand thoughts each day. When a person experiences an unhelpful emotion (e.g. depression, anxiety and even general feelings of overwhelm), it is usually preceded by a number of unhelpful self-statements and thoughts. Often there is a pattern to such thoughts and we call these, “unhelpful thinking styles”. One of the things we have noticed is that people use unhelpful thinking styles as an automatic habit. It is something that happens out of our awareness. However, when a person consistently and constantly uses some of these styles of thinking, they can often cause themselves a great deal of emotional distress and affect you both personally and professionally; leading to breakdown in communication, mental health challenges and resilience to life events and situations..
- Mind reading: Thinking you know what others are thinking without any reason to do that. For example: “If I take a break, others will think I’m shirking my responsibilities and criticise me.”
- Exaggerated concern for others’ thoughts: Giving elevated status to what others think. For example: “If people think I’m not doing enough, I’ll lose my job when this is over.”
- Catastrophizing: Believing that the future will be horrific, and you won’t be able to manage it. For example: “Everyone in the family will get sick, overwhelm my work / life balance, and I won’t be able to bear the burden.”
- Discounting: Deciding what you’ve done is unimportant compared to others. For example: “I only worked 16 hours but everyone else is working more than that. I never do enough.”
- Overgeneralizing: Even if there are only a couple of examples, you think those examples apply to all of life. For example: (After seeing a news story about a health-care worker dying) “I know I’ll get sick even though I am using all the safety precautions.”
- Shoulds: Adding moral pressure to yourself inappropriately. For example: “Others work around the clock, so should I.”
- Personalising: Taking an excessive amount of responsibility or even blame. For example: “If I take time to rest, I would be selfish and put others at-risk.”
- Blaming: Identifying yourself as the sole reason for negative outcomes. For example: “A patient was placed on a ventilator because I didn’t do enough during triage. It’s my fault if the patient dies.”
- Unfair comparisons: Comparing yourself to others in a way that minimized you and exaggerates others’ importance. For example: “My needs shouldn’t count compared to the companies requests/expectations . The needs of the company are much more important than my own.”
- Super person: Exaggerating your capacities to the point of making yourself indispensable. For example: “Only I can do it so I have no choice but to keep going.”
- Black and white thinking: Concluding that things are only one way or the other, that there are no shades of gray. For example, “I am a good employee only if I work all the time and give 100%.”
It’s important to understand that your mindset is NOT set in stone; you can shift your attitudes and beliefs any time you want. If you find these thoughts are running your life and dictating your relationships, it might be time to step in to shut them down and add some rational ‘restructuring.’ –
Each time you find yourself going into a spiral of negative thinking, try to write down these things each time:
- Date/Time when the negative thought happened
- Situation and people around you
- What the thought was
- Emotion you feel with that thought (i.e. Empowered? Relieved? Motivated? Accepted?)
- Your response to the thought
- A better response using positive self-talk
Build your growth mindset – I can’t do it … yet. The way we talk to ourselves impacts what we actually achieve. If you tell yourself that you can do something, chances are that you will, even if you don’t accomplish it straight away.
Check in with yourself periodically during the day. Stop and evaluate what you’re thinking. If you find that your thoughts are mainly negative, try to find a way to put a positive spin on them.
Re-evaluate your goals and expectations – are they realistic in the current environment? Do you need to cut yourself some slack and are you not achieving because your goals are misaligned? Current goals such as “I SHOULD exercise one hour a day” might be changed to “I CHOOSE to move my body, no matter the time limit.” Changing expectations will empower and provide a sense of accomplishment along with breaking down the guilt.
Would you talk like this to your bestie? It’s important to be mindful to not speak to yourself that you wouldn’t say to anyone else Be gentle and encouraging with yourself. If a negative thought pattern enters your mind, evaluate it rationally and respond with affirmations of what is good about you.Show gratitude and think about things you’re thankful for or currently proud of in your life.
Surround yourself with positive, supportive and optimistic friends, colleagues and family members who are willing to provide non-judgmental and helpful feedback rather than individuals who can create self doubt and increase stressful thinking.
Remember; any change requires discipline and consistency so try to practice positive self talk each day. Remember that it’s your response, both internally and externally that determines the outcome of a situation.