Thoughts fall into two camps. They are either Helpful or Unhelpful.
When reaching for any goal or achieving a new fresh way of being, this is the most useful question that you can ask yourself about any thought or feeling that you are experiencing: “Is this helpful?”
As human beings we are all prone to getting into bad thinking habits. Let’s take anxiety as an example. Thoughts and feelings co-exist in loops and so after a while it can be hard to distinguish which comes first: chicken or egg.
As a result of bad thinking habits, we can very easily create an environment of anxiety. What started out as an anxious episode one day, perhaps because of hormones or a hangover, went into a mood around that feeling of anxiety, if kept going then our anxious mood turns into an anxious temperament around that topic, person or situation.
Pretty soon our mind, in an attempt to protect us, builds up a picture of associations to similar people or situations and a pattern of making assumptions or avoidance begins. To keep this up our mind becomes sensitive to all sorts of triggers, from facial expressions to the sound of a planes engines. These every day stimuli act like warning bells keeping us on our toes incase something sets us off into an anxious episode.
The trouble with this is that our mind can be too good at this task and pretty soon we may even stop doing everyday activities like socialising, shopping or driving on motorways. All in an upside down attempt to stop feeling anxious. After a while we start to know ourselves as an anxious personality then we feel stuck with anxiety being our normal.
This “new norm” brings with it a cocktail of body chemistry which fires off regularly in our neurology. Before too long we have familiar body chemistry which is in fact addictive, because what was once a bit of a buzz that kept us on our toes has now become bars that are keeping us held hostage with unhelpful yet familiar, body chemistry, thoughts and feelings. We are running on autopilot just like pavlov’s dogs.
What if it was all a misperception that didn’t get nipped in the bud, instead it took over?
What if knowing a few simple things about your mind can stop you from going down an anxiety rabbit hole?
What if asking yourself firmly “Is this helpful” can burst your autopilot bubble?
The good news is that if it can start it can also stop. The first key is to change your perception of the situation and in turn change what you are telling yourself about it and the feelings that are coming up.
Below are some key primary thinking errors of the mind, for you to consider, as a first step to changing your perception:
Black or White Thinking– the error of labelling everything as an extreme, success or failure, good or bad, all or nothing:
Example: You are in a meeting with a client when you lose your train of thought whilst making a specific point. You walk away believing that the entire meeting was a failure. As a result of your black and white thinking, you get increasingly anxious and disappointed in your abilities
Helpful Truth: consider a black and white photo – without a million shades of grey it would be meaningless – its exactly the same in life, i.e. nothing is black and white – nothing!
Mind Reading– the error of believing that you know what someone else is thinking.
Example: You are in a meeting with a client when you lose your train of thought whilst making a specific point. You start to tell yourself that the client now thinks you are an idiot and spend hours / days feeling bad and insecure now almost convincing yourself that you are an idiot.
Helpful Truth: if you could definitely read minds, you would be held in a government institution and prodded a lot! Do not trust your instincts wholeheartedly because they are biased. Based on decision you made when you were much younger, from a child’s perspective, before you know what you know now about life (more about that another time) – look for hard evidence. Become discerning between how your intuition feels and how erroneous mind reading feels.
Fortune Telling / Catastrophizing– the error of taking a minor negative event and imagining all sorts of disasters resulting from it.
Example: You are in a meeting with a client when you lose your train of thought whilst making a specific point and you immediately start to imagine the absolute worst case scenario. Like Chicken Licken you begin to predict the sky is falling in on your career. Catastrophizing would make anyone anxious.
Helpful Truth: your fight, flight, freeze, response (Chimp) is just trying to keep you safe and so it can over egg the pudding by indulging in catastrophic thoughts, that’s ok, you are the boss. You have the ultimate say, you discern fact from fiction. And remember if you could definitively see into the future you would have made your billions by now!
Dramatic Language – “This always happens”. “They never liked me”.
“What if everybody hears about this’
Helpful Truth: be mindful of how you use words like “Always”, “Never”, “Couldn’t possibly”, “Everybody”. We can get a buzz from using them, but a word of caution, our subconscious mind takes them very seriously.
Instead of sabotaging yourself why not:
Support yourself forward!
Ask yourself, “Is this helpful?” : As soon as you notice noticing that compulsive body chemistry is triggering your mind and body to run off down a rabbit hole of anxiety
Ask yourself, “What hard evidence is there to support my reactions?”, “Is this actually true?”
Ask yourself, “Am I living reactively or responsively to this situation?”
As an exercise to help yourself with any particular issue you may be having at the moment see if you can come up with your own examples that fit into each common place thinking errors.
Lets be honest we are all tempted to do it, so when might you or a loved one indulge in mind reading, exaggerated language, fortune telling, catastrophic thinking or black and white thinking to your detriment?
Forewarned is forearmed!
Of course, if you feel that I can help you with anything that life is bringing to your door at the moment, I would be delighted to hear from you.