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Express your intention in one word (DW#533)

The thing with setting intentions is that they need to be short and simple. If we are writing paragraphs (or pages!) about our intention, it’s a sign that we are over-complicating things. 

So go ahead and set an intention to set an intention! Once you open to the possibility, your one word intention will come to you. And not necessarily when you are trying hard to think of the "perfect" one. 

And once your intention does become clear to you, it can act as a guiding north star for you, directing your actions and behaviours. 

This does not mean that you will always act according to your intention. But it does mean that whenever you do stray away from it, you can recommit in the moment and reconnect with your intention, adjusting your behavior accordingly. 

For example, if my intention is to relate with honesty (or just "honesty" or "authenticity" or "vulnerability") and I am tempted to be less than this, as soon as I become aware of it, I...

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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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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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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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