Much of our thoughts occur automatically, which is a good thing, as we don’t generally have to work too hard to do daily or routine tasks like getting up, getting dressed, eating breakfast, getting to work etc. And, it can be a bad thing, because they are so habitual and automatic that we don’t usually pay much attention to them. If you think back to the last time you got annoyed or anxious, can you remember what it was that you were thinking? It takes practice to try and focus on what thoughts were going through your mind?
Here are a few ways in which you can try to change your thinking :
- Identify the Distortion : Write down your negative thoughts so you can see which of the ten cognitive distortions you’re involved in. This will make it easier to think about the problem in a more positive and realistic way.
- Examine the evidence : Instead of assuming that your negative thought is true, examine the actual evidence for it. For example, if you feel that you never do anything right, you could list several things you have done successfully.
- The Double-Standard Method : Instead of putting yourself down in a harsh, condemning way, talk to yourself in the same compassionate way you would talk to a friend with a similar problem.
- The Experimental Technique : Do an experiment to test the validity of your negative thought. For example, if, during the episode of panic, you become terrified that you’re about to die of a heart attack, you could jog or run up and down several flights of stairs. This will prove that your heart is healthy and strong.
- Thinking in Shades of Grey : Although this method might sound drab, the effects can be illuminating. Instead of thinking about your problems in all-or-nothing extremes, evaluate things on a range of 0 to 100. When things don’t work out as well as you hoped, think about the experience as a partial success rather than a complete failure. See what you can learn from the situation.
- The Survey Method : Ask people questions to find out if your thoughts and attitudes are realistic. For example, if your believe that public speaking anxiety is abnormal and shameful, ask several friends if they ever felt nervous before they gave a talk.
- Define Terms : When you label yourself “inferior” or “a fool” or “a loser”, ask yourself, “What is the definition of a “fool”? You will feel better when you see that there is no such thing as a “fool” or a “loser”.
- The Semantic Method : Simply substitute language that is less colourful and emotionally loaded. This method is helpful for “should statements”. Instead of telling yourself “I shouldn’t have made that mistake,” you can say, “It would be better if I hadn’t made that mistake”.
- Re-attribution : Instead of automatically assuming that you are “bad” and blaming yourself entirely for a problem, think about the many factors that may have contributed to it. Focus on solving the problem instead of using up all your energy blaming yourself and feeling guilty.
- Cost-Benefit Analysis : List the advantages and disadvantages of a feeling (like getting angry when your plane is late), a negative thought (like “No matter how hard I try, I always screw up”), or a behaviour pattern (like overeating and lying around in bed when you’re depressed). You can also use the Cost-Benefit Analysis to modify a self-defeating belief such as, I must always try to be perfect”.
Being aware of your negative thoughts is critical in helping you to challenge them. One way might be to count how many times you have negative thoughts in any one day.