Understanding your unhelpful thinking patterns can change your life forever.
Much of the noise in our lives is not external but internal, and sometimes that internal noise can eat us up. Many of us carry around patterns of unhelpful thinking. Changing unhelpful thinking patterns can change your life.
Before we can do anything about them we need to become aware of what these patterns are, so that we can nip them in the bud. Here are some examples of unhelpful thought patterns. Which ones apply to you?
Predicting the future
When we feel anxious it is common for us to spend time thinking about the future and predicting what could go wrong. In the end, most of the predictions we make don’t actually happen, and we have wasted so much time and energy being worried and upset about them. An example of this might be that you predict that you’re going to go poorly in a job interview and assume that you won’t get the job before you even try!
This is when we assume that we know what other people are thinking (usually about us) without any real evidence to suggest it’s true. We also make assumptions about why someone said something or behaved in a certain way and be quick to conclude that it’s due to us. An example of this might be that someone that you work with acts in a curt manner towards you. You automatically assume that you’ve done something wrong or that they don’t like you, but perhaps they’re just having a really bad day! Perhaps they have a sick child at home. What is the story you’re telling yourself about other people’s behavior?
People commonly catastrophize when they’re anxious. This is when we blow things completely out of proportion and look at the situation as a catastrophe even though the problem is actually quite small. An example of this might be that you text someone but they don’t reply. Perhaps it’s your son who is feeling sick! All of a sudden instead of being worried that he’s a little bit sick you might be worried that he’s incredibly sick and has ended up in a hospital and you don’t even know about it!
Focusing on the negatives
When we’re anxious we commonly develop tunnel vision, where we focus solely on the negative aspects of situations without considering the positive aspects. Sometimes the whole picture can be clouded by a single negative detail. For example, instead of focusing on all of the people who really like the work that you do, you focus on the one person who appears not to.
This is where we make a judgment about what we expect is going to occur in our life based on one instance of it happening in the past. A sense of helplessness or futility can result from this unhelpful thinking pattern. An example of this is that you had a bad relationship experience and from that point on believe that you’re never capable of having a good relationship experience again.
Imagining the worst-case scenario
This one is pretty self-explanatory. This is where we make predictions that the worst-case scenario is going to happen despite the fact that we have had many successes in this area in the past. It can also be known as discounting the positives. Instead of looking at our successes we only predict failures. I often wonder why we do this and I wonder if it’s so that we can protect ourselves from the disappointment of things going wrong. How unhelpful is that!?
This is when we label ourselves based on our behavior in specific situations. We define ourselves by one specific behavior (usually a negative one) and fail to see our other positive characteristics and actions. For example, “I’m always anxious” or “I’m clumsy” even though this is not always the case. What labels are you using on yourself? What labels do you currently define yourself by and are they complementing your life? If not, which ones do you need to ditch?
If you are practicing any of these unhelpful thinking patterns it’s time to make a change. The first thing to do is to become aware of your patterns, and the next is to challenge them so that you are creating a more balanced view. Next week we will look at “Doing the Work” to help!
What is your “go-to” unhelpful thought? What consequence is this pattern of thinking having on your wellbeing? Let me know in the comments below.