Most people don’t spend a lot of time trying to listen to those messages they tell themselves between events and their reactions. It comes automatically. Do you find yourself over reacting or feeling worse than you think you should? Getting more control over what influences your thinking will help you gain more control of your reactions.
There are exceptions. Death of a loved one is an example. In a situation such as bereavement or other tragedies it is not your thinking, but the event itself that is more important. For most things, your thinking does have a powerful influence.
There are four things that influence our automatic reactions to situations:
1 Unhelpful thinking habits
2 Our style of explaining things
3 Deep core beliefs
4 Our physical and mental well being
Start paying attention to your initial thoughts. Check if your thinking is helpful and constructive or destructive and damaging. It can be hard work. Being aware of what you are thinking helps you to challenge thoughts that aren’t working for you.
That section on challenging comes later. For now, let’s learn to listen!
Unhelpful thinking habits
When something happens, our first automatic thought may be more negative and unhelpful. Some psychologists believe the mind focuses on more negative details as a form of self protection. Our ancient ancestors had to prepare themselves for the worst as the world they lived in was full of danger. Modern living does not have the same levels of hazards, but that’s the way our minds have evolved. It takes more effort to see the positive.
It helps to learn what kind of unhelpful thinking habits you have come to use automatically. Your moods might be a signal. They tend to make us make knee jerk conclusions based on inadequate or incomplete information. That is why they are unhelpful.
Ten common unhelpful thinking habits
All or nothing thinking You see things in extremes: good or bad, right or wrong
Jumping to conclusions has two types:
Overgeneralising Assuming something happened once; you think it will happen all the time. It is a never-ending pattern of defeat. Has something difficult happened in the morning and you say to yourself, “well that is today ruined” or “that’s the story of my life?”.
Making a mountain out of a mole hill You exaggerate the importance of things or blow things out of proportion. It just won’t be bad. It will be a disaster.
Emotional reasoning If I feel it, it must be true. We confuse feelings for facts.
Should statements You tend to think in absolutes. Things or people should act in a certain, predictable way. Words like should, must, have to dominate your thoughts. We live by fixed rules and unrealistic expectations for ourselves and others that can lead to guilt and disappointment.
Taking things personally Blaming yourself when something is not at all connected to you.
Wishful thinking “If only” thinking dominants. It is being locked into the past and regrets.
Mental filter Pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it.
Discounting the positive Anything positive does not count. You reject the possibility that there is something positive here or something good could come out of it.
Types of unhelpful thinking