5 Ways To Change Your Thinking

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How Your Think Shapes How You Feel

BY DR SARAH HUGHES

We all have an inner monologue – we think about things we need to get done later today, things we’re stressed about, our plans for the weekend, conversations we’re dreading, and events in the past that didn’t go quite the way we would have liked. How we think, our interpretation of our past, present, and future is important because it’s our thoughts that determine how we feel.

How you think can change how you feel

How you think can change how you feel

When we react to a situation it’s not the situation that makes us feel the way we do it’s how we interpret the situation. Say someone cuts you off in traffic, you can interpret their actions as intentional and focus on what a jerk they’ve been or you can give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that they might not be familiar with the area and accidentally cut you off because they’re too focused on reading road signs. The first interpretation will make you feel irritable and agitated, the second less so. Your thoughts are powerful. How you think shapes how you feel.

We run into trouble when we blindly assume our interpretations of a situation are accurate when they’re not. We mistake our thoughts for facts and forget to question whether there’s another more accurate or more helpful way to see things. Our feelings muddy things further because they make our interpretations seem more credible – anxiety makes our anxious thoughts seem truer, sadness or depression makes our negative thoughts feel like facts, and happiness makes our positive thoughts seem more likely. But in the same way that we shouldn’t believe everything we read we shouldn’t believe everything we think either.

Here are 5 common thinking errors to look out for.

Error #1: Over-generalisations

When you overgeneralise you use a single event to make a rule rather than looking at all the available evidence. For example, making a typo means that you’re stupid and a friend declining to go to the movies with you means nobody likes you. If you use general words like “never”, “always”, “no-one”, or “everybody” a lot, you may be falling into the over-generalising trap. If this sounds like you, get rid of general language and force yourself to be specific. For example, force yourself to acknowledge that one typo (or even 10 typos in a day) isn’t enough evidence to make a general conclusion about intelligence.

Error #2: Catastrophising

When you catastrophise you exaggerate the likelihood of something bad happening, and you imagine that future events will be catastrophic and more than you can cope with. If you’re a catastrophiser, know that the worst case scenarios your head jumps to aren’t necessarily the most likely outcomes. Force yourself to think about best case scenarios as well and try to think about which outcomes seem most likely. Your head will naturally err towards thinking about catastrophies and this will make them seem more likely, but don’t fall into the trap of believing that they are.

Error #3: Filtering

Filtering means focusing on certain parts of a situation and not the whole situation. Usually we focus on the negative aspects of a situation and filter out the positive parts. For example, focusing on the one critical comment your boss made in your performance review and ignoring the eight positive comments that preceded it. If filtering is a habit for you, force yourself to look for the positives you’re ignoring so you can have a more balanced view.

Error #4: Black + White Thinking

When you’re thinking in black and white you divide all of your experiences into either/or dichotomies. You think you’re either good or bad, a success or a failure, funny or boring – there’s no middle ground. The trap with black and white thinking is that you usually put yourself on the “black” side of the equation. Challenge black and white thinking by looking for grey areas. For example, if you think your work presentation was a ‘complete disaster’, look for signs that it wasn’t. If your head is skilled at black and white thinking you’ll find this hard, but don’t let your head trick you into thinking there isn’t a grey area because there always is.

Error #5: Mind Reading

When you mind read you assume that others feel about you the same way you feel about yourself, without any real evidence that your assumptions are correct. For example, you assume that because you think you’re boring, everyone else thinks you’re boring as well. If you ‘just know’ that others think a certain way about you, chances are you’re mind reading. If this sounds like you, be wary of automatically assuming you’re right. Look at whether there’s any real evidence that another person thinks you’re boring/stupid/awkward and if there’s not, be open to the idea that they see you differently to how you see yourself.

Dr. Sarah Hughes is a clinical psychologist and the founder of Think Clinical Psychologists. She enjoys working with children, adolescents, and adults, and specialises in anxiety, depression, postnatal depression, eating disorders, self-harm, and challenging behaviour.


 

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