Observing thoughts and their relation to emotion
How we think and what we think about make such a difference to how we feel, behave and relate. Our quality of life is shaped by our thinking.
It’s not easy to think about thinking. Most of the time, we simply take our thinking for granted, never questioning it, however biased or flawed it might be. When we are anxious or depressed, our thinking can become extremely negative and illogical without us even realizing it.
Here are some thoughts and tips from the field of cognitive therapy. If you can learn to recognize and evaluate subtle yet dis-empowering thoughts, you will be able to replace them with empowering thoughts and begin feeling better again:
1. Catch the negative thoughts
The first step is to keep a record of your experience and break it down into simple categories:
Unable to get served in a department store
He is avoiding me…he doesn’t like me…no one likes me…I’m so worthless…
Depressed, Anxious, Hopeless
Knotted stomach, dry mouth, tension in shoulders, tearful.
Went home with no new clothes to enjoy.
Keeping such a record or a mood diary will help you to understand the crucial role of thoughts (or cognitions as psychologists often call them) in your everyday life.
2. Step back and question the thoughts
You need to really hone-in on the negative thoughts. Can you see how the thinking of the person in the above example jumps from one negative conclusion to progressively more negative conclusions with no evidence for doing so?
Try to cast yourself in the role of a scientist and examine your thoughts objectively.
Here are three questions that can help you gain a balanced perspective:
How true are these thoughts on a scale from 0 (not at all) to 100% (completely)?
Have I done anything to upset the shop assistant?
What other explanations might there be for his behavior?
The more alternatives you can generate (e.g. They dislike the job and would rather be elsewhere … they’re having a bad day … perhaps they just had an argument with the boss etc.), the less likely you are to believe your original negative thought.
3. Generate a new perspective
You can generate a new perspective by reviewing your answers to the questions and using these as a basis for re-formulating your thoughts:
I’ve done nothing to upset him. There could be lots of reasons why he hasn’t served me. It makes no sense at all to think it’s anything to do with me. In other circumstances he might enjoy my company.
Go back to your original negative thoughts and re-rate how strongly you believe them to be true now. As you practice, you’ll find yourself believing them less and less and feeling rather better.
To begin with, achieving even just small shifts in negative thinking, such as being able to recognize the thoughts as theories open to question, rather than seeing them as absolute facts, can be very empowering and give you a greater sense of control over your moods and behavior.
Words of Wisdom
If you are pained by any external thing, it is not this thing that disturbs you, but your own judgement about it
Our life is the creation of our mind
Find a new perspective and the motivation to change
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