Everyone struggles with negative thinking from time to time. Some people have negative thinking 80% of their day. But how do you change this? The first step is to catch yourself doing it. The fact that you are aware of the negative thinking is a great first step. But then you have to challenge the negative thoughts.
The following are the different thinking styles that could be feeding your negative thoughts spiral. Therapists call these Cognitive Distortions. See if you can recognize the style that you tend to use the most and make a conscious effort to change it.
ALL OR NOTHING THINKING
Also known as Black and White thinking. This is where you see things as all or nothing or thinking in extremes. For example, thinking “either I do it right or not at all” Or “I stumbled on a question in the interview, I ruined it” Or thinking people are either a success or a failure, good or bad, etc.
Emotional reasoning is similar to all or nothing thinking. When you’re emotionally reasoning, you’re assuming that because you feel a certain way, what you think must be true.
For example, ” I feel nervous, I know something bad is going to happen” when in reality, you may just be feeling anxious because you’re doing something for the first time, which is normal to feel that way.
JUMPING TO CONCLUSIONS
Jumping to conclusions is when you assume something. There are two types of jumping to conclusions: Mind Reading and Fortune Telling.
Mind reading is when you image that you know what others are thinking and feeling. Avoid this by asking questions to clarify how that person is feeling or what are they thinking. Fortune telling is when you try to predict the future. For example, saying to yourself, “I’m not even going to bother asking, they’re going to say no” Unless you are a fortune teller, ask for clarification. Assuming things will almost always get you into trouble.
Labelling is when you assign labels to yourself or to other people. Some examples of labelling are saying things like ” I didn’t get the job so I’m a loser”, “I made a mistake,I’m useless”, “She’s always late to work, she’s irresponsible”
When we label, we’re judging. Be aware of your judgements of others to help decrease labelling.
Mental filtering is when you only pay attention to certain types of evidence. For example, only focusing on your failures and not looking at your successes. Or only looking at the facts that fit what your belief is and dismissing what doesn’t fit your belief.
Overgeneralization is when you take one experience and generalize it to ALL experiences. If you have ever said “Nothing ever works out for me” or “I always loose” you have overgeneralized. This thinking style keeps you feeling low and unmotivated.
Using critical words like “should” or “must”can lead you to feel guilty or as if you have already failed. When we apply should to other people it can cause frustration.
Simply put, should thinking appears to make you think that there is a rule that you have to follow and if you don’t follow it, it’s bad. That’s when you feel guilty and get hard on yourself. This also leads to feeling disappointed with others because you have put on this expectation on them.
DISQUALIFYING THE POSITIVE
This style is when you discount the good things that have happened or that you have done. This thinking style is very common in people with low self-esteem and low confidence who tend to think that nothing they do is good enough.
MAGNIFICATION & MINIMIZATION
Magnification is when you blow things out of proportion making something seem more important or worse than it really is. This thinking style is a common symptom of Anxiety and Depression. With anxiety, you think of worst case scenario.
With depression, you can magnify things by thinking the worse of yourself or a situation when in reality there is a solution.
Minimization is the opposite, this is when you inappropriately make something seems less important than it really is. For example, you may be struggling with depression but explain it away by telling family you’re tired or “just in a funk”
Personalization is when you blame yourself or take on the responsibility for something that was not your fault or is not your responsibility to carry.
This thinking style is common when you feel guilty but in reality you did nothing wrong, so it’s not yours to carry.
Another example of personalization is when you assume that what a person does or says is directed towards you, taking things personal. If you’re experiencing this kind of thinking, you will also compare yourself to others, a sure way to keep your confidence low.
If you catch yourself stuck in any of these thinking styles, take a few deep breaths to physically calm down. Then question your thoughts by asking yourself certain questions. Common questions to ask yourself to challenge negative thinking are;
Is this 100% true?
What’s another explanation?
Is this a fact or my perception?
What’s another way to look at the situation?
Am I assuming?
With practice, you’ll become more self aware of your thinking styles and it gets easier to question them and shift your thinking.
About the Author
Liza J Alvarado is a professional counselor in private practice. She serves adolescents, adults and Spanish speaking families in the Lehigh Valley, PA.