As I’ve mentioned before, I started going to therapy this year. I thought I would share some helpful techniques or “tools” that I’ve learned. I work on keeping these mental tools at the forefront of my mind. This way I can open up my toolbox and remedy my thought patterns to the best of my ability, instead of letting my mind run away with the issue and eventually spiraling into despair.
Today I’m going to talk about identifying unhelpful thinking styles and replacing them.
So, unhelpful thinking styles. The name is pretty self explanatory. These are the thoughts that contribute to negative feelings and patterns in our mind. We all will have different ones that we struggle with as we’ve picked them up over the course of our lives and they become habit.
Types of Unhelpful Thinking Styles
-all or nothing (or black and white) thinking
-jumping to conclusions (mind reading and fortune telling)
-disqualifying the positive
-magnification (catastrophising) and minimization
-“should” and “must”
(This list is from a resource my counselor provided me with from Psychology Tools. You can follow that link to see the sheet which includes an explanation of each along with examples for better understanding.)
While I’m sure I’ve engaged in all of these at some point, I struggle the most with about 4 of them. My personal worst offender is labeling, so I’m going to focus on it for this post.
I used to go through my whole day from waking until sleeping again labeling myself and my actions in all different situations. Stupid, lazy, ugly, fat, selfish, useless, and wrong were common ones. It’s not hard to understand why experiencing my day talking to myself in this way is unhelpful. Not just unhelpful, I’d even say harmful. The events could be significant or trivial, and it had become such a reflex that I wouldn’t even think about it.
The first step was to become consciously aware of these thoughts. Once I had talked about these thought styles with my counselor, I started picking up on it throughout my day. It’s like a little bell would ring in my head. I’d mess up a dinner recipe. “Gah, I’m useless.“ *ding ding ding* I’d pick an argument with Brad. “I am so selfish.” *ding ding ding*
After gaining this awareness, the next, and very important, step was to replace these thoughts. I enacted this by taking back my statement. Out loud. I don’t know about you, but the out loud part kills me. Still. It is almost physically painful for me to say the words taking back those negative statements about myself, but I do it. Even (especially) if I don’t entirely believe it at the time. It can be beneficial if you’ve got a support person as well. If Brad hears me talking like that, he holds me accountable to taking it back.
As that got better, the last step was saying something nice as well. I sound like I’m arguing with myself, which I essentially am I suppose. I burn the cookies. “I’m so stupid.“ *ding ding ding* “No, I’m not stupid. I made a mistake, and I am still an intelligent person.”
It felt insincere and kind of silly at first, but now that I’ve got nearly 4 months of this under my belt, I can see a huge difference in my self talk. The more you do it, the easier it becomes. It also doesn’t spin out of control the way it used to because I can catch and correct it. Unhelpful thinking styles still creep into my mind sometimes, especially labeling, but the amount has drastically decreased. And (surprise, surprise) I’m much happier when I’m not berating myself day in and day out.
Have you tried this technique before? What unhelpful thinking styles do you struggle with? What have you found helps you get out of it?