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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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The link between thoughts and feelings (DW#481)

Over the last little while, we have been talking about the link between emotion and motion – in other words how taking action can change your feelings. 

This week, let’s explore how we can sometimes get to the very source of negative emotions to prevent them rather than changing them once they appear.

Before I explain this further, let’s do a quick exercise. 

Imagine that your family is rushing to get out of the house in the morning and you are trying to do several things at once: get ready for work, make sure the children have everything they need for the day, feed them breakfast and connect with your spouse about the evening plans. It is one of those days and everyone is running a bit late. 

Get the picture?

Now, just as everyone is about to bolt from the breakfast table and get into the car/bus/bicycle, your six-year-old spills the entire box of cereal on the floor. Oooops. Now everyone will be late for sure.

What is your reaction? 

Do you think:...

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Turning fear into courage (DW#478)

Fear is one emotion ALL of us have experienced. Whether real or imagined, personal or professional, our hearts have trembled with the prospect of coming face to face with what we fear. 

What is fear, anyways? 

Here is how the dictionary describes it: 
Fear noun "an unpleasant emotion caused by the threat of danger, pain, or harm."

Given that all of us do and will feel fear, it may be helpful to recognize that we can still act as we must, despite the feeling of fear. Courage, as it is often said, is NOT the absence of fear but rather taking action DESPITE the fear. 

The idea of taking action is embedded in the very definition of courage:
Courage noun "the ability to do something that frightens one".

To put it very simply:

FEAR + ACTION = COURAGE

So can one turn fear into courage by reading, listening, intellectualizing or philosophizing? 

Sadly, no. 

The only way to foster courage is to practice acting despite the feeling of fear. 

And each...

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What can actors teach us about love? (DW#475)

Have you ever wondered why actors/actresses who play the role of a couple in movies often end up falling in love with each other? Well, of course they are usually young, attractive and spend a lot of time with each other – all of which are predictors of selecting a mate.

There is, however, one more thing: They have to act like people who love each other deeply. They lovingly gaze at each other, touch each other, flirt and generally do things that people in love do. With all of these loving actions, it is not surprising that the feeling of loveoften follows.

What can we learn from this? That if you act like lovers on a set with your significant other, it is quite likely that you can kindle or rekindle the feelings of love.

You don’t even need to spend hours with a makeup specialist. Try it!
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Turn that frown upside down (DW#474)

"When you are happy, and you know it, smile a smile". This is how we usually think of smiling, isn’t it?

However, science now suggests that smiling can trick your brain into happiness — and boost your health.

 
It has to do with our hormones. When hormones such as dopamine and serotonin are low in our brains, we experience feelings of anxiety, depression and aggression. Smiling spurs a chemical reaction in the brain, releasing hormones including dopamine and serotonin which increase our feelings of happiness and reduce stress.
 
And it gets better: we now know that depression weakens our immune system – we are more susceptible to infections when we are experiencing a low mood. Happiness on the other hand, boosts our body’s resistance and increases our immunity. And since smiling increases happiness, it boosts immunity.

The strange thing is that for the most part, the brain cannot detect whether it is a genuine smile or not. It is the...

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Feeling Low? Try this (DW#472)

When we are feeling down, it is tempting to get under the covers and not move. We tell ourselves that we will get out and do things once we feel better. If the mood lasts for more than a few days, we may be tempted to reach for a pill (or other substances) to make us feel better.

But get this: there is credible research that movement and exercise is as effective as Zoloft in reducing depression.

 
In The How of Happiness, a book which we have talked about before, Sonja Lyubomirksy walks us through a little experiment.

The study involved splitting clinically depressed people into three groups: The first group did four months of aerobic exercise (three sessions of forty-five minutes each) while the second group took the antidepressant Zoloft and the third group did both.

By the end of the four months, all three groups had experienced their depressions lift and reported fewer dysfunctional attitudes and increased happiness and self-esteem.

Lyubomirksy concluded...

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