Change your thinking and you give yourself a different perspective and a whole new set of tools for dealing with the stuff of life.
Have you ever tried to work your way through a problem only to find you make no real progress because you keep returning to the starting point?
We get into habitual patterns of thinking and the way we think shapes our experience of the world. When you change your thinking we can alter the unpleasantness of some events, or at least make them more bearable by seeing them from a different perspective.
I’m talking about thinking style here, how you think, rather than what to think.
This is not to make light of some of the terrible things that people experience. Personal tragedy is always horrible and however much we ‘get used to’ loss or other traumatic events we will never forget bad things that we live through. Neither is it ‘positive thinking’, sort of pretend-everything’s-alright-and-have-a-better-day. Positive thinking essentially tells us what to think, whereas I’m talking here about HOW to think.
We think all the time but sometimes our patterns of thinking – like rumination, turning things over in our mind, rehashing events, remembering our ‘failures’ – take us over.
Change your thinking
Habits like this can be intrusive, disruptive and depressing. By making a few conscious choices in your thinking style and learning to change your thinking you can start to retrain your mind to work better for you in stressful, demanding and challenging situations.
Identify the dodgy thinking
If you list your negative thoughts and see how they could be challenged they will be easier to think in a more balanced and realistic way.
Look for evidence to counter your negative thought. For example, if you feel that you never do anything right, you could list several things you have done successfully.
What would a friend say?
Instead of judging yourself or your efforts harshly, be as kind to yourself as you would be with a friend who came to you for support.
Put your fears to the test. For example, You need to approach someone for guidance, but worry that they might reject you. Approach them anyway, the worst that can happen is that you’ll be proved right. More likely though you’ll find out they will help.
Instead of thinking about your problems in all-or-nothing terms, evaluate things on a range from 0 to 10. If things don’t work out perfectly, review the situation as a partial success rather than a total failure. Then learn from the situation. The trick is to train the mind to see things in steps or incements, nothing is ever really ‘all’ or ‘nothing’. When you have rated the problem and given it a number go to step two; ask yourself what needs to happen for your to move up one point on the scale. For example, if you feel bad about something – if zero is the worst you could feel and 10 is as good as you could possibly feel – rate how you actually feel at that moment then ask yourself the second question.
Ask people questions to find out if your thoughts and attitudes are realistic. For example, if you believe that you are alone in your fears or concerns, check with others to see how they would feel in a similar situation.
List the advantages and disadvantages of a feeling (e.g. getting angry at a colleague or family member), a negative thought (e.g. ‘I always have all the bad luck’), or a behavior pattern (like putting things off and lying around in bed when you’re fed up). Work on this until the ‘disadvange’ list is more compelling that the ‘advantages’ side.
Finally, remember to use words with care. The language we use creates our reality. Catastrophic language will make things appear bleaker or dramatic. Changing the language you use to less emotionally-laden expressions will reduce this impact. For example, consider the difference between ‘a terrible day’ and ‘a tough day’, or, ‘bad news’ and ‘information that’ll make me rethink things’.
Remaining resourceful and resilient in the face of challenging events requires a conscious decision to change how you react and relate to stressors, and the commitment to develop thinking habits like the ones above. These notes can act as guidance if you would like to change your thinking, and a reminder. Remember, in the words of Epictetus: “People are disturbed not by things, but by the views which they take of them”.
References and reading
Brinkman, R., Kirschner, R., (1999), Life by Design; Making Wise Choices in a Mixed-Up World, McGraw-Hill, New York.
Burns, D., (1999), The Feeling Good Handbook, Penguin, London.
Norem, J., (2001), The Power of Negative Thinking; Using Defensive Pessimism to Manage Anxiety and Perform at your Peak, Basic Books, Cambridge, MA.
Positive Psychology Resources, (2006), Resilience at Work [online], Available from: http://www.centreforconfidence.co.uk ,[Accessed: 29.06.2010]
Seligman., M, (2003), Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realise Your Potential for Lasting Fulfilment, Nicholas Brealey Publishing, London.