Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Change Your Thoughts...Change Your Mood

Now that we know what the top ten thinking errors are and how they can affect our behavior and actions, let's discuss how we can challenge them and substitute them with something more positive and realistic.   Let's review the  previous example given  (see Have You Ever Heard of a Thinking Error - posted on June 7,2010),  involving passing the angry supervisor in the hall.  Below, the first example involves a thinking error that goes unchallenged and the second example involves substitiuting the thinking error with a more realistic thought:

Example # 1:

Event:  Boss walking past you in hall without acknowledging you
Thought:  "I must have done something wrong...I'm such a loser...I don't even exist to him...I'm going to get fired..."
Behavior: Depression, anxiety, guilt---less friendly to co workers, less motivated, quiet, withdrawn, preoccupied.

Example # 2:

Event:  Boss walking past you in the hall without acknowleding you.
Thought:  "I must have done something wrong.....I'm such a loser..I'm going to get fired..."
Recognize Thinking Error:  "STOP! I'm mindreading, jumping to conclusions and fortune telling..."
Challenge The Thinking Error:  "Ummm, he must be preoccupied today..there are a lot of problems that need to be solved around here and he is very busy...I also know from previous experience that he is not particulary friendly to anyone...this is somewhat typical behavior coming from him." 
Substitute a More Realistic Thought(s):  "I can't read his mind.  I won't take this personally.  I am a good worker.  If there is some problem or concern with my work, I'm sure he will tell me, after all he is the boss (and paid the big bucks to supervise). In the meantime, I will just continue to do the best job possible and remain friendly and approachable not only to him but to all of my co-workers."
New Behavior:  Acting with confidence, not reacting, increasing motivation to continue to do good work, increasing friendliness and approachability with coworkers as well as the supervisor.

Can you see how the first scenario would promote depression, anxiety, guilt and a decrease in productivity?  The second scenario would likely promote a sense of  personal wellbeing and the motivation to problem solve.  At the very least it would elminate the self down putting that would affect your mood.

David Goodman, (Emotional Well Being Through Rational Behavior Training) has developed several rules that promote rational thinking:

1.  The situation doesn't do anything to me
The situation doesn't make me anxious or afraid. I say things to myself that produce anxiety and fear.

2.  Everything is exactly the way it should be.
The conditions for things or people to be otherwise don't exist. To say that things should be other than what they are is to believe in magic.  They are what they are because of a long series of causal events
including interpretations, responses from irrational self talk and so on.  To say that things should be different is to throw out causality.

3.  All humans are fallible creatures.  This is inescapable.  If you haven't set reasonable quotas of failure for yourself and others, you increase the prospects for disappointment and unhappiness.  It becomes all too easy to attack yourself and others as worthless, bad and so on.

4.  It takes two to have a conflict.  Before beginning a course of accusation and blame, consider the 30 percent rule.  Any party to a conflict is contributing at least 30 percent of the fuel to keep it going.

5. The original cause is lost in antiquity.
It is a waste of time to try to discover who did what first.  The search for the original cause of chronic painful emotions is extremely difficult.  The best strategy is to make decisions to change your behavior now.

6. We feel the way we think.  This is the positively stated principle behind the first statement in this list.  It reinforces the idea that events don't cause emotions--our interpretation of events cause emotions.

Keep these rules in mind as you teach---yes, teach your mind to go toward more rational thinking.

Next time:  more on  how to refute irrational thoughts and ideas to help you feel better.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Thinking Errors - Part II

Last time we talked about thinking errors and went over five of the most common. Were you able to catch yourself in these thinking errors?  When keeping track, it can be surprising to note how often we fall into these negative traps.  Last week, one of my clients who is going through a lonely and difficult time at the moment, reported seeing an old boyfriend with his girlfriend after having not seen him for some time. As they exchanged a few social pleasantries for a few minutes, she stated that her thoughts went something like this:  "He looks so happy.  I'll never be happy like him. He moved on to better and more exciting things--his life sounds exciting and successful.  Look at her, why do other girls have all the luck and I'm not even dating. I should have a new boyfriend by now. No wonder we broke up, why would he want to be with someone like me."  With thoughts like these, no wonder she spent the rest of the day in a depressed mood.
Can you identify some of her thinking errors from the list that we started last week?  Following are five more (again, developed by the experts at The Beck Institute of Cognitive Therapy):

6.  Magnification (Catastrophizing) or Minimizing:  You exaggerate the importance of things (such as your goof-up or someone else's achievement, or you inappropriately shrink things until they appear tiny (your own desirable qualities or the other person's imperfections).  This is also called the "binocular trick".

7. Emotional Reasoning: You assume that your negative emotions necessarily reflect the way things really are:  "I feel it, therefore it must be true."

8. Should statements: You try to motivate yourself with shoulds and shouldn'ts as if you had to be whipped and punished before you could be expected to do anything.  Musts and oughts are also offenders. The emotional consequences are guilt and lack of motivation.  When you direct should statements toward others, you feel anger, frustration and resentment.

9.  Label and Mislabeling:  This is an extreme form of over generalization.  Instead of describing your error, you attach a negative lable to yourself:  "I'm a loser".  Mislabeling involves describing an event with language that is highly colored and emotionally loaded.

10.  Personalization:  You see yourself as the cause of some negative external event which in fact you were not primarily responsible for.

What thinking errors did you come up using the example above?  Now that you're getting good at identifying these pesky little thoughts, let's figure out how to combat them.  Remember, unless our negative thoughts are substituted with those that are more positive and realistic, we will continue to feel bad, which, in turn affects our behavior and our actions.
Next time, we'll discuss how to challenge these thinking errors.
Until then, as always I welcome your thoughts...

Monday, June 7, 2010


Many people go through life thinking in ways that affect their moods negatively which in turn affects their behavior and actions.  If these thoughts are distorted and unrealistic, they are called thinking errors.  Depression and anxiety can result.  One of the main goals of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is to correct these thinking errors which will result in you "feeling better" automatically.

Imagine walking down the hall at the office.  You pass a supervisor who looks straight ahead and does not acknowledge you.  You could think, "Oh my gosh I must have done something wrong. Am I going to get fired?  I must not be doing a very good job."  If you continue thinking this way, the remainder of your day would not be good, you might be preoccupied, thinking the worst, feeling insecure and going over your past performance looking for every mistake and maybe even fearing being fired. Depression and anxiety would certainly follow. As part of the solution, we need to discuss the many thinking errors that are at work here:  Jumping to Conclusions, Mind Reading, Fortune Telling and Mental Filtering. 

     When these thoughts are replaced with something more realistic or positive self talk, the impact is immediately lessened and you are able to go on and function confidently--simply feeling better.

The following is a list of some of the more common thinking errors that were developed and identified by the experts at the Beck Institure for Cognitive Therapy :

  • All or Nothing Thinking:  You see things in black and white categories.  If your performance falls short of perfect, you see yourself as a total failure. 
  • Overgeneralization:  You see a single negative event as a never ending pattern of defeat. You use words like always, all the time, never when describing your and others' behavior.
  • Mental Filter:  You pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it exclusively so that your vision of all reality becomes darkened like the drop of ink that discolors the entire beaker of water.
  • Disqualifying the Positive:  You reject experiences by insisting they "don't count" for some reason or other.  In this way you can maintain a negative belief that is contradicted by your everyday experiences.
  • Jumping to Conclusions:  You make a negative interpretation even though there are no definite facts that convincingly support your conclusion.
  • Mind Reading:  You artbitrarily conclude that someone is reacting negatively to you and you don't bother to check this out.
  • Fortune Telling: You anticipate that things will turn out badly and you feel convinced that your prediction is an already established fact.
Do any of these ring a familiar bell?  This week, try to catch yourself in your thinking errors and identify them. Next time we'll go over five additional thinking errors.  When you begin identifying the thinking errors that play a part in your negative moods, this is the first step in challenging and correcting them.    Try keeping a list--it will surprise you how these cognitive distortions creep into our lives.