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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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Steps to change our thinking (DW#485)

So how do we begin to change our thinking patterns? Here are some steps:

1)   Intention.

As we know, everything begins with an intention. Making the intention sets the program into motion, so to speak.

2)   Learn about distorted thought patterns

We need to know what some common distorted thought patterns are so that we can recognize them when we engage in them

3)   Recognize distorted thinking

This is the ongoing practice part. Here’s the thing: we could get a PhD in ‘cognitive distortions’ (I am quite sure it does exist) but this will not mean that we will not engage in these unhelpful patterns. It is an ongoing practice to recognize when we are engaging in negative or distorted thinking.

4)   Replace with helpful thinking

Once we recognize the patterns, we can replace them with thoughts that will be are more positive and helpful and will uplift and encourage us rather than bring us down.

...

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But why are so many of our thoughts negative? (DW#484)

Hopefully you are beginning to notice that you are having thoughts that come and go, contradict each other and seem mostly negative. If you are, congratulations, you are well on your way to improved mental health and emotional intelligence.

Negative thoughts are perfectly normal and according to many psychologists, may be the default position of our mind.

This is because negative thoughts exist to keep us safe. Really.

Our ancestors survived by constantly being on the lookout for threats, fixing problems as they arose, and then learning from their mistakes. If they were optimists and stopped to admire the sunrise and smell the roses, they may not have survived to give birth to their children and we may not have been here.

They used their imagination to consider potential threats and problems, enabling them to solve the problems before they got into trouble and were attacked by predators.

So thankfully they were able to watch for and deal with trouble before it attacked them and that...

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Don’t believe everything you think (DW#483)

As we said yesterday, most of our thoughts are automatic and negative. When we are having a particular thought, it appears logical and TRUE.

If we get used to examining our thoughts however, we begin to recognize that our thoughts can be unstable and often arbitrary, shifting depending on context and contradicting our better instincts. If we are upset at someone for something, for example, we may begin to develop "tunnel vision", and our thoughts focus only on their negative aspects and ignore the positive ones.

The problem does not lie in the fact that we have thoughts, but in the fact that we sometimes begin to form our personal identities around the things we think. We begin to believe every thought that we have. If I think that someone is mean, for example, they must be mean.

One of the key aspects of self growth, of emotional intelligence and of mental health is to recognize thoughts as passing phenomena of the mind without attaching ourselves to every thought that we have and...

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Do you have ANTs in your brain? (DW#482)

Let’s review some fun facts about thoughts and the way we think.

Did you know that the average person thinks between 50,000-70,000 thoughts per day? The thoughts that pass through our brain last only split seconds and range from the mundane -- I need to do groceries, to the significant – My family really matters to me, to the self-destructive -- I'm not good enough.

And did you know that most of these thoughts are the same thoughts we think every day? Our thoughts seem to be on autopilot most of the time and appear to come from nowhere.

AND did you know that the majority of these automatic thoughts are negative. (The reason for this is rather interesting and something that we will deal with on another day)

Psychologists have coined a phrase for these thoughts: ANTs – Automatic Negative Thoughts.

I like to think of them as ANTs eating the positive side of my brain. A yucky but powerful image, wouldn’t you say?

How many ANTs can...

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