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Quit shoulding yourself – and others (DW#495)

Many of us have a list of "shoulds" and "musts" and "ought tos" for ourselves and others.

I should be a better mother
My children should be more grateful

I must never get angry
People should park properly
People ought to recycle everything

Here is the problem with shoulds and musts:

Shoulds that are directed against ourselves lead to guilt and frustration. They almost never lead to motivating ourselves to do better.

Shoulds and musts that are directed against other people or the world in general lead to anger and frustration. When people do not follow the unwritten rules for life that we have, we start giving them mental tickets and minus points. And that generally does NOT lead to any change or improvement in them or in our relationship with them.

Are you ready to quit shoulding and musting? Start by recognizing how many times you say these words out aloud or in your head. 

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Emotional reasoning (DW#494)

Emotional Reasoning is a thinking pattern whereby we are in the habit of interpreting our experience of reality based upon how we are feeling at any given moment. 

If we are experiencing negative emotions about work or family for example, it influences how we experience our work or family. Instead of recognizing that we are having an off day, we assume that our emotions are giving us an accurate picture of what reality is. "I feel it therefore it must be true".

For example:

I feel that you never listen to me, therefore it must be true.

I feel that my boss is out to get me, therefore it must be true.

I feel that my children are throwing tantrums just to embarrass me therefore they must be really sneaky children.

In order to counteract this type of thinking, we need to recognize that when we are having a bad day or are emotionally triggered, it is most likely preventing us from thinking clearly.

By the way: It is NOT a good idea to make decisions when we are thinking and feeling...

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Minimization (DW#493)

positive thinking Nov 14, 2018
The unhelpful thinking pattern of minimization is the flip side of catastrophizing. It is also called "Disqualifying the Positive" because it minimizes positive traits about ourselves or situations – while magnifying mistakes (this is why it is also called the "Binocular Trick"). 

As we can imagine, this is a particularly dangerous distortion since it leads to continued negative and pessimistic thinking even in the presence of lots of contrary evidence.

Here is an example:

You receive a positive review at work. You minimize it as an anomaly. You play down your positives as exceptions. You talk-down all your positive attributes and accomplishments in order to lower people’s expectations. No matter how much people tell you that you are worthy, you focus on your mistakes rather than on your accomplishments. Although it may be mistaken for humility, this distortion is not about being humble but about not seeing the full picture of one’s strengths and...

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Decatastrophizing (DW#492)

positive thinking Nov 13, 2018
When we notice the catastrophic trains of thought that we have been discussing, we can challenge ourselves:

1)    To consider other possible outcomes

They do not have to be super positive either. They can be positive, neutral or even mildly negative – just not catastrophic. There is a vast difference between something being unpleasant, unwanted and catastrophic. Failing an exam, while unwanted and even distressing, does not doom anyone to eternal failure. Can you see that?

2)    To increase our perception of our ability to cope.

Life seldom throws things at us beyond our capacity to cope. If we remind ourselves that our ability to cope with life’s challenges has been pretty stellar so far, we can come up with a plan B and a plan C if the worst does come to materialize. When our brain becomes engaged in thinking about possible solutions and options, the attention moves away from the catastrophe itself and towards a more...

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Catastrophizing (DW#491)

positive thinking Nov 12, 2018
Catastrophizing is perhaps my favourite cognitive distortion.

Here’s why:

It is rather amusing to watch someone to predict a negative outcome for something and then jump to the conclusion that if that negative outcome did, in fact occur, it would be total catastrophe. When we are seeing someone else do this, we can see the faulty logic and the giant leaps of assumptions that the person is making.

Of course, it is not so humorous when we are ourselves engaging in catastrophizing!

Catastrophizing happens in three steps:

1)   We worry about a situation
2)   We predict that a negative outcome is certain
3)   We then jump to the conclusion that if the negative outcome did in fact happen, it would be a catastrophe.

For example:

1)   We worry because our child is not studying that much.

We predict that they will fail the exam

We jump to the conclusion that failing an exam would be a catastrophe. That if they fail an exam, they...

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Labeling (DW#490)

When people upset or annoy us it is very tempting to generalize their behavior into a character trait. For example, if someone throws their socks on the floor after you have tidied up, you may be tempted to label them as sloppy, disrespectful, uncaring or a number of other unflattering things.

Of course, we can also label ourselves, which is equally unhelpful. 
Instead of saying "I made a mistake," you may attach a negative label to yourself: "I’m a loser." 

Sometimes, we adopt a negative label for ourselves that others have used, and then use it to justify our negative behaviour because of the label.

"That is right, I have always been an angry person. That is why I cannot control my temper".

"You’re right. I am stubborn. And I won’t budge."

"I am a loser. So why should I try?"

When we label ourselves or others in this way, we mistake an action or behaviour for a character trait. And we know that behaviours and actions are much easier to change than the...

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Overgeneralizations (DW#489)

Have you ever taken a single event or one piece of evidence and come to a judgment or a conclusion based on that?

All of us (that’s a generalization by the way!) have made a generalization or a broad statement to a group of people or things. Basically, our minds are so hungry for the impression of knowledge and certainty about our circumstances that they automatically form broad, sweeping conclusions based on very little information or experience. This is particularly true when we’re under the influence of strong negative emotions.

The problem with generalizations is that they are seldom true and can be the basis of prejudice and racism if they embody negative assumptions about entire groups of people.

As Albert Einstein said: All generalizations are false, including this one.

In relationships generalizations and overgeneralizations can cause trouble.

When we say things like "She always", "You never", "Some people are so . ." we are making...

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All-or-Nothing Thinking / Polarized Thinking (DW#488)

For the next several days, we will be looking at different types of distorted thinking.

Today let’s look at Black-and-White Thinking which is sometimes also called Polarized Thinking.

Some examples of black and white thinking are:

He is a terrible person

My sister is so beautiful and I’m so ugly.

This option is great and the other one is awful.

When we think in this way, we are unable or unwilling to see shades of grey or a middle ground. Things are either good or bad, right or wrong. In other words, we only see the extremes of the situation.Nothing is okay or good enough or somewhere in the middle – it is either fantastic or awful, we are either perfect or we are a total failure.

While black and white thinking can provide us with apparent security and certainty in the short term, it is fundamentally distorted because people and situations are rarely so simple and easy to categorize. All of us, and most situations in life as...
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Why deal with negative thinking? (DW#487)

When negative thinking patterns become habitual, and remain unconscious, they have the potential to impact our mental health and our relationships.

There is lots of evidence in psychology around how cognitive distortions correlate to symptoms of depression and anxiety. The renowned psychiatrist, researcher and best selling author David Burns goes one step further. He says:

"I suspect you will find that a great many of your negative feelings are in fact based on such thinking errors."

So negative emotions, including depression and anxiety, go hand in hand with distorted thinking. If we are frequently suffering from negative emotions, it would be very useful to look at our thinking patterns and see if we can recognize the link between particular thoughts and emotions and then work to change them.

When distorted thoughts show up in relationships, they have a huge potential to cause harm. Imagine your spouse suggests that you go out for dinner. If you have a habit of negatively...

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Cognitive distortions (DW#486)

Our brain LOVES to make connections between thoughts, ideas, actions, and consequences. And our brain really does not care whether they are truly connected or not. It simply needs to explain what is happening and come up with a story and a conclusion so that it can rest easy.

When our brains make assumptions and conclusions which are not true, we call them "Cognitive Distortions".

Cognitive distortions are exactly what the name implies: distortions in our cognition or thinking. Put another way, cognitive distortions are biased perspectives we take on ourselves and the world around us. They are irrational thoughts and beliefs that we unknowingly reinforce over time by thinking them again and again AND assuming that they are true.

These patterns and systems of thought are often very subtle and therefore hard to recognize because they are form so much of our habitual thinking patterns.

This is also why they can be so damaging because we cannot shift what we don’t...

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