Mental Health

Challenge Your Thoughts

Often when people come to therapy, they will express the desire to “make bad feelings go away”. There is a lot to learn by embracing our emotions and accepting their usefulness. There are also times when the more useful option is to challenge them.

Everyone experiences uncomfortable emotions from time to time. Often these are a result of faulty thinking, mistakes we make in the way we think about ourselves, others, and the circumstances of life. By recognizing these mistakes and challenging them, we can often change the way we feel.

See if you can recognize any of these “thinking mistakes”:

  • All-or-nothing thinking – Also called “black-and-white thinking” because it often involves thinking that something is “all good” or “all bad” without recognizing that most things have a wide variation of positives and negatives.
  • Over-generalizing – This happens when you assume one situation will trigger an avalanche of disasters.
  • Mental filter – Focusing on a single aspect, obsessing over it, ignoring all other aspects.
  • Disqualifying the positive – Rejecting, discounting, or ignoring positive experiences. Minimizing your successes.
  • Mind-reading – Making assumptions about the thoughts, beliefs, opinions, or motivation of others without supporting evidence (other than your own gut instinct).
  • Fortune telling – Anticipating inevitable disaster and assuming “your fate is sealed”
  • Catastrophizing – Grandma called this “making mountains out of mole hills”, also known as “getting too big for your britches”. Any excessive exaggeration (positive or negative) of the importance of a single event, thing, person, or choice.
  • Emotional reasoning – Accepting that your feelings about a subject define its reality without checking your gut against the facts.
  • Shoulds and Oughts – Unreasonable demands for people, things, and situations (including yourself) should or ought to be a certain way. This leads to chronic disappointment with self and others, fueling the beliefs like, “I’m a failure”, “Nothing ever goes the way I want”, or “People always let me down”.
  • Labeling – Overgeneralizing self or others by reducing a description to a single word. This is rigid, inflexible categorization without an appreciation for the limitless qualities of humanity.
  • Personalization – Blaming yourself or taking responsibility for events for which you had little or no influence.

See anything familiar?

Most people do.

When you catch yourself making a thinking mistake, now you have the opportunity to challenge your thinking by asking yourself some emotional-neutral questions.

Here are some suggestions for challenging thinking mistakes. Ask yourself…

  • What is the evidence that the thought is true?
  • What is the evidence that thought is not true?
  • Is there an alternative explanation?
  • What is the worst that could happen?
  • Could I live through it?
  • What is the best that could happen?
  • What is the most realistic outcome?
  • What is the effect of me believing my thought?
  • What could be the effect of me changing my thinking?
  • What should I do about it?
  • If my friend was in this situation and had this thought, what would I tell him/her?

Now double-check your feelings about the situation. What has changed?

I’d love to hear your experiences with this. Please post below and tell me how you did.