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Challenging Cognitive Distortions Summary (DW#520)

Here are the 10 ways to challenge cognitive distortions that we have been exploring over the past few weeks. (and here is the link to catch up on any that you may have missed)

1)    Clear weeds from the garden of your mind [DW#508]
2)    Separate facts from interpretations [DW#509]
3)    Be an observer and develop a practice of thought watching. [DW#510 and DW#517]
4)    Explore what happened and what did you make it mean? [DW#511]
5)    Ask yourself if your interpretations are helpful. [DW#512]
6)    Come up with more helpful interpretations. [DW #513 & DW#514]]
7)    Ask yourself what your wisest friend would advice you in this situation?  [DW#515]
8)    Take the advice that you would give to a dear friend [DW#516]
9)    Develop and use a list of questions to challenge...

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Are you willing to choose happiness? (DW#519)

People who are successful and happy in this world have as many negative thoughts as you and I do. Really. 

The difference is that they find ways to remind themselves to focus on the narrative that they want to live rather than focusing on the mental chatter in their heads. 

Because if we continue to believe every thought that we have, and if our thoughts continue to be negative, it will be very challenging to live a life of positivity, purpose or peace. 
What we allow to settle in our minds and what we focus on will surely become our reality. 

So how about focusing on the narrative that we want to live? How about becoming aware of where our attention is, and being intentional about directing it where we want it to be? 

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List of questions to challenge Cognitive distortions (DW#518)

It is very helpful to have a list of questions already prepared when we want to challenge our unhelpful thoughts and negative assumptions.

Here are 25 questions that we can choose from. When we notice our distorted thinking patterns, lets challenge the validity of these distortions. They can seldom hold up to this type of questioning.

·     Is this thought helpful?
·     What are the disadvantages of thinking this way? 
·     Do I have a trusted friend whom I can check out these thoughts with?
·     Are there other ways that I can think about this situation or myself?
·     Am I blaming myself unnecessarily?
·     Is it really in my control?
·     Is it all someone else’s fault? 
·     Am I overgeneralizing?
...

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Develop a practice of thought watching (DW#517)

As we have been saying, the problem in our lives is not that we have negative thoughts or "cognitive distortions". The problem is that we believe all of these thoughts and assume that they are accurate or true. 

Instead of believing everything that we think, we can begin to notice our thoughts as they come and go without getting "hooked" by them. We can learn to become observers of our minds and its chatter and become aware of how much of it is automatically negative and unhelpful. 

The best way to do this is to intentionally set aside time each day to get silent and observe our thoughts as they come and go. When we notice our minds wandering into negative territory, we can bring our focus back to the present moment without further engaging with those thoughts. 

Once we become intimately aware of how our mind works, we can stop automatically believing and acting on our thoughts. We have a choice. We can notice our thoughts, let them go. Notice our thoughts and let them...

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What advice would you give to a dear friend? (DW#516)

This week, continue our conversation on challenging unhelpful, negative or distorted thinking. 

We have talked about how valuable it can be to consult with a friend when our negative thoughts are getting the best of us. 

Sometimes, however, such a friend is not at hand, for whatever reason. What do we do then?

We can access our own inner wisdom by asking ourselves: what would we tell a friend or a younger sibling in this situation? 

Many of us are very good advice-givers. Superb advice-givers, in fact. 

When someone who is emotionally charged or triggered comes to us, we can look at the situation without the emotional triggers and come up with a balanced perspective. We can see the pros and cons of thinking this way and come up with helpful suggestions on how to combat this negative perspective (especially if we have been reading Daily Wisdom regularly ;) ) 

So while we have all inner knowledge, it can be hard to apply it to our own situation – unless...

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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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