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What would your wisest friend tell you in this situation? (DW#515)

Some of us are blessed to have a wise friend or mentor in our lives.

This is a person on whom we can count on to give us a realistic perspective when our mind is doing its distorted loopy thinking. A friend who can set us straight and talk some sense into us for our own good. A friend who is a friend of our relationships because they realize that even if we are angry or upset in the moment, our long term happiness and wellbeing lies in making our close relationships work rather than walking away from them.

This is a friend who is kind and compassionate and yet holds us accountable and encourages us to live up to our best selves and to stop acting like a jerk.

If you were to ask this friend about the situation, what would they say?

How would they interpret this situation?

What advice would they give you on your behavior?

Exactly. Listen to this friend.

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But this is not the truth!! (DW#514)

As you are completing this exercise, your mind is likely to be screaming internally: But this is not true.

That’s okay. You’re right. It is probably not.

But then neither are those interpretations that you put in the second circle, are they?

And that is the point: our judgements and interpretations are mostly conclusions that are mind comes up with to make sense of situations when we do not have complete knowledge. We make assumptions and arrive at conclusions with very limited information and perception.

So why not come up with explanations and interpretations that are helpful and empowering rather than distressing and disempowering?

Makes sense?

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The third circle (DW#513)

Today’s wisdom is a continuation of the exercise that we started on Monday.

It is time to draw a third circle on our piece of paper.

In this circle, please write down other possible explanations of the situations that caused you distress. Situations that you did not immediately put down in the second circle.

This is the most challenging part of the exercise. The automatic negative assumptions that we make are usually automatic and don’t take much thought at all.

Coming up with alternatives to our automatic way of thinking WILL be challenging at first.

But please keep going. I promise you, it is worth the effort.

So write down several possible alternate explanations for the situation that is causing you distress.

You may ask yourself questions such as:

What evidence do I have for believing this?

What are the some of the things that I am ignoring that contradict these interpretations?

What conclusions am I jumping to that are not completely justified by the...

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Are your interpretations helpful? (DW#512)

Today’s DW relates to the short exercise we did yesterday.

Let’s go back to the interpretations we discovered in our second circle.

When you look at these interpretations, chances are that they are mostly negative.

Ask yourself: how are these interpretations making me feel? Are they helping or hindering me from mental and emotional wellbeing?

Next question: when I am having these negative feelings and interpretations, how is that causing me to behave? Towards myself? Towards others?

If they are, in fact, making me feel upset or causing distress in relationships, am I willing to consider other, more helpful interpretations?

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What happened and what did I make it mean? (DW#511)

As we have been discussing over these last few weeks, it is rather easy to get caught up in cognitive distortions, find that we may spinning out of control in our distorted thinking loops and sometimes collapse from emotional and mental overload as a result of the havoc wreaked by these thinking loops.

A very effective way to get back to mental and emotional stability is this little exercise:

On a piece of paper, draw two circles. Label the first one: What Happened and the second one: What I made it mean.

Now in the first circle write down a situation when you were upset with someone: someone did not respond to your text, did not return an email or a phone call, they spoke to you in a loud voice, said something, did not greet you on your birthday etc. etc. etc. What you write here should be observable on a video screen by anybody watching.

Next, in the second circle, write down all your interpretations: the labels you have put on them, the judgements you are passing, the meaning...

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Be an observer (DW#510)

It is easy to react negatively when we begin noticing how many times a day we are having cognitive distortions. This is NOT the time to put more labels on yourself (my head is a mess – why do I think so negatively? Why can’t I get this right? And so on . . . ) Thoughts such as these are simply indulging the mind’s inclination to making more cognitive distortions.

So instead of reacting to everything that we think, we can become unbiased observers of our thoughts.

When bad thoughts arise, (and they WILL), we can say, "It's interesting that I think that."

When good thoughts arise, we can say, "It's interesting that I think that."

Just watch your thoughts come and go, come and go, come and go.

When we practice observing thoughts rather than treating them as TRUE and then reacting, we can remain in control and not react based on our mental events.

Be like the ocean – underneath the waves, it is still, calm, unmoving.

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What are the facts? (DW#509)

We have already taken the first step towards more effective thinking and that is to begin to recognize that our thoughts are not facts. They are simply mental events that are often distortions of our mind.

Since thoughts are merely interpretations of events, why not choose more helpful interpretations? Why not choose interpretations that would make us feel good about ourselves and others rather than bring us down and cause us to blame and disconnect from our loved ones?

So the next time you catch yourself having a cognitive distortion, you may find it helpful to ask yourself: what are the facts?

Pretend that you are a lawyer (or a scientist) when you’re challenging your thoughts. The best lawyers and scientists generally don’t use feelings or opinions to win their argument – they stick to the facts (the evidence). Facts are those things, behaviours and events that you can see on a video screen.

For example, if you catch yourself thinking that you are a bad...

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The garden of your mind (DW#508)

It is said that your mind is like a garden and the thoughts are the seeds. 

Consider this: if you were the gardener of your mind, what would be the state of your garden? Would it be full of flowers or full of weeds?

Think of the negative thinking patterns that we have been talking about like weeds. Leave them alone or give them too much food and they are likely to take over, set deep roots and crowd out the flowers or positive thoughts. The longer you let them run wild, the harder it will be to get rid of them and the worse the state of your garden.

Over the last few weeks we have been, in a sense, examining the landscape of our garden and surveying the weeds. We have examined them, discovered the species that are growing roots in our garden and learnt about how they operate.

It is now time to start taking action to clear our garden of weeds so that the flowers may flourish.

Ready? (Or are you really really in love with the weeds? ;)

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List of cognitive distortions (DW#507)

Over the last several days, we have been discussing different kinds of unhealthy thinking patterns (cognitive distortions) that lead us away from mental and emotional wellbeing and negatively impact our relationships.

All of us engage in such thinking patterns from time to time and the more we begin to recognize them, the less hold they will have on us. This is how we can stop letting these thoughts control us and get back in charge.

Before we discuss some more ways we can combat these thinking patterns, here is a list of distortions that we talked about. You can click here to review any or all of them.

  1. All or nothing thinking/polarized thinking [DW#488]
  2. Overgeneralizations [DW#489]
  3. Labeling [DW#490]
  4. Catastrophizing [DW#491]
    1. Decatastrophizing [DW#492]
  5. Minimization [DW#493]
  6. Emotional reasoning [DW#494]
  7. Shoulding yourself [DW#495]
  8. Jumping to conclusions – mind reading [DW#496]
  9. Jumping to conclusions – fortune telling [DW#497]
  10. Personalization [DW#498]
  11. Blaming...
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The two darts (DW#506)

A very useful concept to start recognizing and dealing with unhelpful and negative thoughts is the concept of the "two darts" from Buddhism.

All of us experience pain in our lives. Pain is what happens when an event or situation outside our control causes us distress. For example, we get a headache, our car breaks down, someone betrays our trust, we lose our job. All of these are events that cause pain.

Events such as these are the first darts that life throws at us.

The second darts are how we respond to these events, what we think about them and what we tell ourselves.

If our car breaks down for example, this would be the first dart.

Some examples of second darts are if we tell ourselves:

Why does this always happen to me.
I am so unlucky.
I hate my life.
Now my whole week is ruined.
I will get fired because there is no way I can get to work on time.
I am going to go broke because of the repairs.

The reality of the situation is this: we cannot do anything about the fact our car...

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