In order to combat unhelpful thinking styles you must learn to leave your negative thoughts behind. The trick is not just to stop the ongoing storm of thoughts, but rather to change the nature of the thoughts from destructive to positive and life-enhancing ones.
As you commit yourself to eliminating these negative ways of thinking, you must understand two factors. First, these unhelpful thinking patterns are much more likely to emerge when you are fatigued or highly stressed,or when there is a significant problem facing you. These situations weaken your ability to cope and contribute to distorted thinking. Ironically, these bad thinking habits emerge when there’s a problem, and that’s exactly when effective coping responses are needed most. When things are going reasonably well, they may not be apparent at all.
Also, many people do not experience these thought disorders with all problems. These habits instead tend to emerge when a problem touches on an area of personal vulnerability or emotional sensitivity. By noticing exactly when distorted patterns emerge, you can pinpoint unresolved personal conflicts, thereby enhancing your personal awareness. These emotional “soft spots” clearly call for strengthened coping skills.
How do you get rid of these self-defeating ways of thinking?
It can be done, but will require self-awareness, patience, practice and support.
Here are some helpful hints:
- Verbalise your thoughts when a problem occurs.
To build awareness of distorted thinking, think out loud when you have a problem. You may even need to record yourself and play it back. If you have a trusted friend you could run your thoughts past them to see how they sound when said aloud to another person. You may be very surprised at how negative and self-defeating your thoughts actually are. Remember that these thoughts reinforce negative perceptions of you and reality.
- Do not project thoughts onto other people.
It’s easy to attribute unfairly negative thoughts to loved ones or close friends. To eliminate distorted thinking, first take full responsibility for your thoughts. Then open yourself to give other people a chance to care about you.
- Work on one habit at a time.
Most people are prone to several different negative thought patterns. To tackle them all at once is usually self-defeating. Instead, identify one distorted thinking habit and work on that one alone until it is eliminated. Then move onto another one until you overcome all of them.
- Act as if you are completely competent and in control (Fake it until you make it!)
In the beginning, force yourself to do this in lieu of negative thinking in order to give new ways of relating to a problem a chance. You will feel better because problems don’t seem so overwhelming, and you are coping more effectively. “What you say to yourself, you become.”
- Use thought-stopping as a technique.
When you find yourself slipping into distorted thinking, internally shout to yourself, “STOP!”
STOP -> THINK –> Then TALK/ACT
- Practice positive affirmations.
Even when you feel good, it’s helpful to make self-reinforcing statements. However, these need to be realistic and practical. Saying “everything will be wonderful in the end” may not be helpful, because sometimes things do not turn out this way. However, saying “No matter what obstacles are thrown at me, I am strong enough to overcome them” is quite different. Whether you initially believe it or not, practising saying it aloud will reinforce those beliefs and you will start to believe them. No matter where you are, keep your self-affirming thoughts going.
- Put positive suggestions by others into practice.
It is often helpful to ask for and really listen to feedback from your partner or a good friend. When you do, make it a point not become defensive, because receiving feedback often triggers negative thinking. You may find yourself gaining insight into how to cope more effectively.
- Separate yourself from negatively thinking peers.
Often negative perceptions are reinforced by friends, especially when discussing personal or relationship struggles. If you need to talk it out, find one upbeat friend who is helpful to use as a sounding board.
Bottom line: It’s very difficult, if not impossible, to live life happily when you feel insecure, unloved, distrustful of others, and threatened by events around you. But most of these feelings you create yourself. You can’t change the world, but you can change yourself and the way you perceive life events.