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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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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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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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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