• Laura Curta

Unhelpful thinking patterns

You feel the way you think, and what you focus on, you feel.
It is as straightforward as this.

Are you a puppet?

We all draw the conclusion that if something happens to us, the event makes us feel a certain way. This is why we hear “My son got me angry”, “My boss frustrates me”, even “My partner makes me happy”.

Further, we go on and assume that someone’s behaviour makes us behave in a certain way. “I hit him because he made me angry” or “I ended up being disrespectful because they were disrespectful and inconsiderate, too”.

But can anyone make us feel and behave in a certain way?

You see, you and I, he, she and they are meaning-making machines. When it comes to a human’s reality, rarely the reality in one’s brain is the same as the Reality. Instead, we come up with our own reality by doing this (and we do this without knowing it):

Something happens to us or around us -> We assign a meaning to what just happened (we do this based on past experiences, beliefs that we hold dear, our attitudes, wishes, hopes and demands) -> We feel the meaning we assign to the experience -> we respond (we have feelings, and we behave in a certain way).

One event can have different meanings, depending on who is impacted by it.

We are not puppets to be made to dance of happiness, cry of sadness, kick and scream of anger or jump with overjoyed. We are the masters of our Self.

Learn an equation

Now I will explain to you some things- after, you will know better. You will be able to go out in the world and do better.

This is a simple equation: A+B= C.

A is your trigger (called activating event, in a more fancy language). And the whole meaning- assignment process, feeling emotions and behaving in a certain way can be triggered by something that:

-actually happens around you or already happened

-you expect to happen

-you imagine, remember or even dream.

B is your beliefs. Your beliefs take different forms:

- thoughts

- demands you make on yourself and the world

- personal rules

Beliefs, usually, bring with them words as must, should, have to, ought to. Be aware of them as they make you lose touch with the Reality.

C is the consequence. The cold truth is that everything has a consequence. And your way of thinking is no exception. In this context, you can see consequences disguised as the feelings you have (which can be healthy or unhealthy), how you behave (your actions can be constructive or destructive) or what you feel in your body (you can feel your legs shaking, butterflies in the stomach, etc.).

When it comes to a human’s reality, rarely the reality in one’s brain is the same as the Reality.

When the math is done wrong…

Let’s tackle negative emotions.

If only we could have only happy memories, bright and joyful images, helpful beliefs, assume that the best will happen, see only the best in people and feel only positive, healthy emotions. But we don’t! That’s not the norm.

Unfortunately, for many of us, the norm is A= C. This means that random events that we can rarely control, sudden images that pop up in our heads, dreams and even things that didn’t happen yet, can control our emotions. Do read this one more time! Don’t you feel powerless now?

Fortunately, the Reality is that A+B=C. And while A is hard to control, we can focus on B, and if we can master B, we can influence the outcome of this equation, the C.

Focus on what you can control! The thoughts and feelings that you have are yours and only yours.

Spot the error

These are the most common thinking errors that distort Reality. You might not even notice thinking this way because you are so used with it. But paying attention to how you think pays off- how you think is how you feel (trust me, I learnt the hard way).

Catastrophizing- you catastrophize when you take small negative events and turn them into disasters, expecting grave consequences.

Making demands- demands are rigid rules which are for yourself or the world around you. They are accompanied by words like must, should, have to, need, got to. Be aware that these rules are only yours, and not getting everyone to submit to them can cause distress on your side.

Disqualifying the positive- you reduce the significance of positive experiences. Positive events become negative or neutral. You can dismiss the positive things in your life, assuming that good things can't happen to you or there's no reason why they would happen to you.

Low- frustration tolerance- you see discomfort as something unbearable. Even when you have to deal with a small amount of stress for your own benefit, you prefer to avoid it as you deem it hard to cope with or even a danger to your life.

All-or-Nothing- for you, nothing can be in between- something is either black or white, things or people are bad or good, one either loves you or hates you, plans either go how you thought them or they are doomed to fail. There are no nuances, no in-betweens.

Fortune- telling- you are sure that you can tell the outcome of future events based on how you feel in that moment, current mood, past experiences and how you see the situation at that specific moment.

Mind- reading- quite often, you try to guess what's on someone's mind. Usually, you assume that others are gossiping about you, thinking negative things about you or have harmful intentions.

Emotional- reasoning- you measure Reality using your emotions. You make decisions, behave accordingly to these feelings and the meaning you attach to them. You react in the heat of the moment, without using your wise mind.

Generalising- this is what happens when you become sure that all the apples in a basket are bad just because one is. But you didn't check every apple…

Labelling- after having a small and negative experience, you label similar things, persons or circumstances as unsafe, bad, dangerous, worthless, etc. From labelling and generalization, stereotypes are born.

Mental- filtering- you see only what you want to see and what reinforces your beliefs.

Personalising- this is all about you. You feel responsible for someone's failure, you think you caused someone's pain, it is your fault that something broke or that plans fail.

Now you know better

Take a pen and paper, open a document on your computer or keep your diary close. Do the following exercise whenever an unhelpful emotion storms in, whenever you feel anxious, depressed, angry, ashamed, hurt, jealous, extremely envious or guilty.

Take a moment and answer these questions:

What happened? Keep in mind that we are interested in Facts. Write down who did what, when and where.

What were your thoughts? Write down any thoughts you have about this experience experience.

Spot the error. Take every thought and identify the thinking error that occurred.

Name the consequence: What did you feel? What did you do?

This is it.

Now you know how your brain sees and processes Reality. Even though might not be an easy job at the beginning, try to slow down and deconstruct unhelpful thought and feelings, analyse them and come up with a more flexible, healthy, useful way of thinking.

Thought and feelings happen inside us. As much as we want to, we can't control the outside world but with determination we can control the inside world.

Do you want to see how being mindful of your thoughts can improve your life?

I created a workbook for you!

It has simple to follow steps and examples.

The Treasure Chest has the workbooks you need to grow your self- awareness and become the person you want to be.

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