5 Things You Need To Know About Thinking

5 handy hints on effectively using your grey matter.

Therapy 29th Dec, 2020

We are all thinking, all the time, whether it is about the work in front of us, what we want for lunch, or the latest episode of a TV show. These thoughts are constantly crossing and colliding in your brain. One chain of thought can start at a food craving, go to a holiday memory where you had a meal containing that craving, then on to worrying about finance as you can’t afford a vacation this year. This is all perfectly normal. The trick is to recognise it is happening and then steer away from unhelpful, or negative thinking. In addition, we also tell ourselves stories such as, I am constantly tired. If you are repeating this all day, without even noticing, then you will start to feel tired. When you know a few of the common thoughts, or stories, it is easier to watch out for them and improve your mental health.

All Or Nothing Thinking:

This thinking style, also known as black and white thinking, refers to thoughts such as ‘if it isn’t perfect then I have failed’. In other words you hold yourself to impossible standards and when you don’t meet them, it proves you are the failure you believed, regardless of what you may have actually achieved. Another example is ‘I have never been able to do that/stop myself doing that and I never will’. This is a story many of us tell ourselves, perhaps you always arrive late or struggle to meet deadlines. Even if this annoys you, or gets you into trouble, you tell yourself this is an aspect of your personality. This is not true, it is an all or nothing story you can change. Time how long it takes you to get ready, use online maps to predict journey times and work out how long you take to complete a task. Then you know what time you have to start getting ready, or doing your work, to be on time. When you stop listening to the stories, you can start thinking of solutions.

Jumping To Conclusions:

If you have ever decided what a person is thinking, or what they are going to do, before having a conversation with them, then this applies to you. What you need to do is notice when you start to play out a situation. It is natural to do this at times of stress, as we all want to have responses prepared. However, no matter how well you know that person, you can not predict exactly what they will do or say. Therefore, getting caught up in jumping to conclusions can lead to extra stress, as you worry about something that has not happened yet. When you start looking out for this and notice what you are doing you can send your mind down a different path. Start thinking about TV, a book, a recipe you want to try, or the work in front of you and carry on with your day.

Mental Filter:

What was your last success? If you can remember what you consider your last failure, but not a success, this is something you do. What happens with a mental filter is that we only log failures, small or large, from burning dinner, to lying about something to a loved one. Your latest success might have been getting up and going to work/getting the kids to school/having a shower. Every time you complete a piece of work that is a success. Learn to recognise your successes and that we all make mistakes every day – that’s not a failure, just part of being human.

Labelling:

When you are struggling with your mental health, you may start to use labels on yourself and others, as a way of simplifying a world you are having difficulty negotiating. However, these are often negative labels such as, ‘I’m a failure, or useless’, ‘they’re an idiot’ or ‘they’re fabulous, I’ll never be as good’. Once again, you need to be aware that this is a thinking style and watch out for it. Nobody is just one thing, including yourself, challenge these labels and the stories that go with them. For example, if you are labelling yourself as useless, what have you done that is useful today? If you have helped your partner/ made a coffee/ got to work, you have completed a useful task, give yourself the credit you deserve. It could help to make a difference to your mental health.

Magnification And Minimisation:

This is where you imagine the worst possible outcome or reaction, or alternatively play down the consequences of something. Blowing things out of proportion, also known as catastrophising, is a common trap to fall into, particularly when you have mental health issues. Emotions are often heightened, so you may overreact to something you have magnified, making the situation more difficult. When a conversation or situation upsets you, try to take a moment, even excuse yourself to go to the bathroom and step back. Are you magnifying what has just happened, was this a reasonable request/comment etc? Alternatively, is the other person getting upset because you are minimising something? We often minimise bad news, or a mistake, because it seems too frightening to cope with. In reality when you face up to something, more often than not it becomes more manageable. When emotions run high, give yourself time to see if your reaction has been magnified, or minimised, it could really make a difference.

It is often the case that knowing about these thinking styles and stories empowers you to start catching yourself doing them. Write these modes of thinking down in your own words somewhere, whether that’s a note in your phone or a post-it in your wardrobe, whatever works for you. Refer to them every now and then. Have you done any of them that day? If so, don’t beat yourself up, be kind to yourself, we are all human. Just remember this is something you do that can be changed and challenged in your own mind. Nobody generates every thought that crosses their minds, we all have strange, wonderful and destructive stories. Let those negative thoughts drift right on through and move on with your day.

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