Challenging negative thinking
It is inevitable that there will be times when a wave of negative thinking drags us down, especially when we are mentally exhausted. The skill is to prevent the harmful self talk from overwhelming us by not letting it persist too long. There is every chance that one or more of the following is pervading our thinking and it helps to identify the culprits and challenge them with a good dose of rationality.
• Am I jumping to conclusions?
• Am I assuming that my view of things is the only one possible?
• Am I thinking in all-or-nothing terms?
• Am I using ultimatum words in my thinking, like ‘must’, ‘got to’, etc.?
• Am I totally condemning myself (or someone else) on the basis of a single event?
• Am I expecting myself to be perfect?
• Am I over-estimating the chances of disaster?
• Am I exaggerating the importance of events?
• Am I fretting about how things should be, instead of accepting and dealing with them as they are?
• Am I assuming I cannot do anything about my situation?
• Is the outcome really going to be a catastrophe?
The fourth of these, concerning the use of language, is worth expanding. If we are under pressure and not handling things very well, we are quite likely to start using exaggerated and unyielding words, indicating that we are getting things out of proportion and making them seem worse than they really are.
Let’s assume you have a lawn at home and it’s your job to mow the grass. You arrive home on a Friday evening in June and announce as if your life depends on it, ‘I must cut the grass this weekend!’ Your partner says, ‘Yes, it certainly needs it,’ inadvertently adding to the pressure you’ve put on yourself. On Saturday afternoon you are getting the mower out of the shed when friends you’ve not seen for years turn up unexpectedly and stay not just for tea, but supper as well! The lawn cutting is now a double ‘must’ for tomorrow. At 6.00 a.m. you are woken by rain lashing on the window and it carries on right through Sunday. Your self-inflicted ‘must’ now has you feeling a failure. How much healthier it would have been on Friday evening if you’d said, ‘I’ll see if I can get the lawn cut this weekend.’ Stated preferences are softer than demands and less likely to lead to stress. Also, a bit of exercise pushing the mower on Monday evening will do you good!
Once again we have had the opportunity of alternative thinking and of shifting our perception. To underline that we always have these choices, here is another simple but effective exercise in changing a negative monologue to something more constructive. Fill in your own example, current or historic, in the empty boxes.
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