Saturday, March 05, 2005

Powerfull Thoughts

Most worthwhile for All of us. The way you think about the events in your life has a powerful affect on how you feel. Learn to identify some of the most common thinking errors people commit and how to fix them. 2. THE POWER OF YOUR THOUGHTS What if you were to fail a test,lose your job,or make a big mistake in front of others?Would you respond with feelings of sadness,worry, or shame? It wouldn't be human not feel some emotion when difficult things happen in your life, but is there anything you can do to change your emotions? Or do you simply endure your feelings until they magically change? A type of psychotherapy called cognitive therapy offers us important insights into how our emotions work and how we can influence them.Most of us think that we have no control over our emotions--we simply feel what we feel.Cognitive therapy proposes that it is not what happens to us that causes our emotional reactions, but rather, the way we think about the events in our lives. For example,let's say you're stuck in traffic.Is it inevitable that you will feel angry and upset because you can't go anywhere?Well,it all depends on how you think about it.If your thoughts are "I can't believe I'm stuck here. I wish these incompetent drivers would get out of my way. My whole evening's going to be ruined," you're likely to be quite distressed. On the other hand, if you say to yourself, "Well, I'm not thrilled to be sitting here in traffic,but I guess this gives me a chance to listen to the end of this talk show and relax for a while," you might actually experience the time as pleasurable. So, the basic idea in cognitive therapy is that your thoughts are the key to emanaging your emotions. You can't always change what happens to you, but if you can change how you think about those events, you can actually influence the way you feel. 3. COGNITIVE DISTORTIONS David Burns, M.D., author of The Feeling Good Handbook,points out that our thinking is not always very accurate.In fact,he has identified a list of some common ways people think that actually lead to a more frequent experience of distressful feelings such as anxiety,depression,guilt,or anger.Here is a list of cognitive distortions from The Feeling Good Handbook: 1. All or Nothing Thinking: You see things in black and white categories. If your performance falls short of perfect, you see yourself as a total failure. 2. Overgeneralization:You see a single negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat. 3. Mental Filter:You pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it exclusively so that your vision of all reality becomes darkened,like the drop of ink that discolors the entire beaker of water. 4. Disqualifying The Positive:You reject positive experiences by insisting they "don't count" for some reason or another.In this way you can maintain a negative belief that is contradicted by your everyday experiences. 5. Jumping To Conclusions: You make a negative interpretation even though there are no definite facts that convincingly support your conclusion. A. Mind Reading: You arbitrarily conclude that someone is reacting negatively to you, and you don't bother to check this out. B. The Fortune Teller Error: You anticipate that things will turn out badly, and you feel convinced that your prediction is an already established fact. 6. Magnification (Catastrophizing) or Minimization: You exaggerate the importance of things (such as your goof-up or someone else's achievement) or you inappropriately shrink things until they appear tiny (your own desirable qualities or the other fellow's imperfections).This is also called the "binocular trick." 7. Emotional Reasoning: You assume that your negative emotions necessarily reflect the way things really are: "I feel it,therefore it must be true." 8. Should Statements: You try to motivate yourself with shoulds and shouldn'ts, as if you had to be whipped and punished before you could be expected to do anything. "Musts" and "oughts" are also offenders.The emotional consequence is guilt. When you direct should statements toward others, you feel anger, frustration, and resentment. 9. Labeling & Mislabeling:This is an extreme form of overgeneralization.Instead of describing your error,you attach a negative label to yourself: "I'm a loser." When someone else's behavior rubs you the wrong way, you attach a negative label to him: "He's a damn louse." Mislabeling involves describing an event with language that is highly colored and emotionally loaded. 10. Personalization: You see yourself as the cause of some negative external event which in fact you were not primarily responsible for. When people have severe anxiety or depression,it is inevitable that their thinking is playing an important role in keeping them emotionally stuck. All of us engage in these thinking errors,but people experiencing severe disturbance of their mood, do so much more often. 4. UNTWISTING YOUR THOUGHTS So what do you do? How do you change the way you feel? 1. Notice your automatic thoughts Watch how you respond to the events in your life. Is your automatic response to think something negative or positive? We all have a "tape" playing in our minds and may not be aware of the content.Important people in our lives,such as our parents, often influence what's recorded on the tape, early in our lives.So, if you had a very critical parent, you might automatically think very self-critical thoughts when things happen.For example,let's say you fail a test. Do you automatically tell yourself, "I'm such a loser.I always mess things up."Do your automatic thoughts sound like the voice of an important person in your life? 2. Notice your emotions. Take note of the emotions you experience in response to your thoughts, especially when you mess up. Are your thoughts causing you to feel upset, angry, or anxious? What specific thoughts are triggering these emotions? 3. Look for cognitive distortions.Write your thoughts down on paper and objectively examine them, looking for any thinking errors you may have made. For example, if you tell yourself, "I always mess things up," you are overgeneralizing. What evidence do you have that you ALWAYS mess things up? Can you identify any instances when you might actually have done some things well? Isn't your statement a bit extreme? 4. Change your thinking. Substitute more reasonable thoughts for any of your twisted thoughts. For example, if you failed a test, you might say, "I didn't do well this time, but I'll study harder and do better next time." 5. Notice your new feelings. When you change what you are telling yourself, your feelings will also change.Once again, with the example of failing a test, your new thoughts might lead you to feel slightly disappointed, but able to move on. Changing your thinking habits takes time.It really helps to use the strategies outlined in this newsletter, but if you need even more structure, consider doing some additional exercises outlined in the handbook that accompanies Dr. Burns's book.