Changing our thinking habits
I wrote earlier about the ways our thought habits get us into trouble, and about how we can begin to become more aware of our thoughts. How do our thoughts get us into trouble?
Many of our patterns of thinking are just that – mental habits or ruts. We develop a certain way of looking at the world. These patterns are often subtly or overtly pessimistic. That makes sense if you imagine, as I do, that these habits probably started as a defense against doing something wrong. The original impulse was to keep us safe. The unintended side-effect is that our world somehow becomes smaller and darker.
These thinking habits mislead us and make us unhappy. And like all habits, they can be changed. First, we need to become aware of them. Second, we need to learn to use new tools to find a different way of doing things. Finally, we need to be patient with ourselves while we’re learning that new way.
Common thinking habits that get us into trouble.
Overgeneralizing. When we tell ourselves that something always or never goes as we think it should we ramp up our distress. “No one ever wants to talk to me at parties and I always feel end up feeling awkward and alone. There is no point in bothering to go.”
Taking things personally. We unconsciously imagine that everything that happens is about us, that the person at work who didn’t say hello to us dislikes us or disrespects us…when in reality she might simply have been thinking about the project she’s working on.
Unreasonable “shoulds.” If we act or decide something, than others (often our significant other) “should” respond in a certain way. “If I agree to go with him to his mother’s birthday party, then he should at least be willing to mow the lawn this weekend.” It is as if we have entered into an imaginary contract with someone…who unfortunately has no idea that the contract exists.
Can’t stand-something. Telling ourselves something is utterly intolerable when the reality is that it is unpleasant, not unbearable. Example: Atlanta traffic. “If it takes me 45 minutes to get home again tonight, I’ll lose my mind!” No, you’ll just be irritated.
There are many other thought habits that can make us anxious or distressed. I’ve counted more than two dozen.
The point isn’t that these situations are pleasant.
Truthfully, life is often difficult, isn’t it? Yet the challenge is how we cope with things that don’t go our way, or how we cope with the many imaginary scenarios our minds create that have the effect of increasing our worry and unhappiness.
We can learn to deal with an unruly mind by learning to sort out thoughts from realities. And when life isn’t to our liking, we have choices about how to respond. This isn’t about happy-talk. It is about learning that we can alter our responses so we are more at peace and have greater choice in deciding what actions will best serve us.
Psychotherapy can help. If you have questions, please contact me.
I have been licensed by the State of Georgia as a professional counselor for more than 25 years. My areas of specialty are relationships, intimacy, sexuality, anxiety and depression. My passion is helping people build happier lives and stronger relationships.
I know it isn’t always easy to talk about problems. My approach to counseling is nonjudgmental and compassionate. If you have questions, I welcome the opportunity to talk with you about working together.
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