Nearly at the halfway point, top effort that.
Before we begin, how have things been?
Last week we looked at Mindfulness and how it has emerged as a powerful way to maintain our equilibrium when dealing with difficult emotions.
This week is another packed one. We’re going to look at Problematic Thoughts, Twisted Thinking and Identifying and Breaking Negative Thought Patterns.
For something that can’t be seen, heard, or measured, thoughts have incredible power.
Before we go any further let’s do our Drill Review for last week.
- How did you find the experience of gratitude journaling?
- What mindfulness techniques did you choose to trial, how did you find them?
Fact, opinion or guess?
Fact. A Fact is a statement that can be proven true or false.
Opinion. An opinion is an expression of your own personal feelings/ emotions that cannot be proven. Opinions can be based on facts or emotions and sometimes they are meant to deliberately mislead others.
Guess. An estimate without sufficient information to be sure of being correct
Talk through these statements with your mentor and decide if they are a fact, opinion or guess. Some may have more than one answer depending on context.
- Nothing ever goes right.
- They shouted at me.
- I failed the test.
- I’m selfish.
- My feet are too big.
Now to put some of these principles into practice. Writing our thoughts down helps us to study them more closely and objectively, especially when it comes to considering whether these thoughts are based on of fact or opinion.
Try to think of 3 problematic thoughts you've had recently. Write them down and discuss with your mentor whether each thought is a fact, opinion or guess.
If you'd like, you could apply the recurring negative thoughts you identified in week 2.
Our brains are like powerful computers, but they aren't always capable of processing the masses of information contained within each unique situation. When this happens, our brains rely on past learning to fill in the gaps. It's like taking a shortcut to avoid trying to process every little detail.
Our minds are excellent at taking these shortcuts automatically and outside of our awareness, and the more often a shortcut is used, the more likely it is to be used again in the future.
The trouble is, our past learning often isn't relevant to our current situation, and this can easily lead to us misinterpreting what is going on around us without noticing.
When our thoughts become distorted or exacerbated as a result of feeling anxious or low, we can call this Twisted Thinking.
There are lots of different forms of Twisted Thinking. Let's have a look at some of the most common.
What is it?
Also known as all-or-nothing thinking. Seeing things in extreme terms. People either love or hate you, you are either right or wrong, etc.
Black-or white thinking can prevent us from seeing the grey-area in situations and leads to our emotions being more extreme than they need to be.
“She wants me to do more around the house. This means I’m completely useless.”
Should and Ought
What is it?
Thinking the way we want things to be is the way they ought to be.
People often use should statements as a way to motivate themselves. However, they can become an unnecessary source of pressure, making us feeling more anxious and like we are failing to live up to our own standards.
“I should have talked more on the date. I ought to be more confident.”
What is it?
Believing that one instance applies to all situations.
Overgeneralising commonly causes us to make false assumptions which can cause us unnecessary painful emotions.
“I couldn’t get out of bed today, i’ll always be a failure.”
What is it?
Thinking a situation is (or will be) much worse than it is.
When we Interpret present or future events as more negative than they really are, our emotional responses also become more negative.
“My friend is five minutes late to meet me, something bad must have happened!”
Glass Half Empty
What is it?
Viewing events in life as more negative than they are or placing more attention on negative aspects.
Focusing on the negative aspects of situations can prevent us from seeing the positives and leads to our emotions being more negative.
“I only have 2 close friends, other people have so many more.”
Jumping to Conclusions
What is it?
Making negative predictions about what other people think or about the future without enough information.
Similarly to overgeneralising, jumping to conclusions leads to us making false assumptions. We may act based on these assumptions or simply feel worse as a result of them.
“There’s no point in me reaching out to my brother because I know he doesn’t want to talk to me.”
What is it?
Assuming our feelings convey useful information and basing our judgements on them.
Emotional reasoning can cause us to react to the way we're feeling whilst missing signs that our emotions might be misplaced or over exaggerated.
“I feel so guilty tonight, that must mean I’ve done something wrong.”
What is it?
Assuming we know what someone else is thinking.
If we convince ourselves that other people are thinking negatively about us then we may start to feel worse and/or change our behaviours.
“They saw me stumble and think i’m stupid.”
What forms of Twisted Thinking do you think you use?
Check your booklet to revisit the list of examples.
Have a chat with your mentor and make a note.
Next, we're going to take a look at how forms of twisted thinking play out in our lives and influence our emotions and behaviours. To do this, we're going to return to the Vicious Cycle that we took a brief look at in week 2.
CBT says that when we experience an event, it is our interpretations of the event that cause our emotional response rather than the event itself. In turn, our emotional response or feelings influence how we decide to respond (our behaviour).
By breaking down our reaction to an event into three parts: Thoughts, feelings, and behaviours, we can reveal how our own thought processes are impacting us.
Have a go at this now. Select a recent event that you have felt negatively about and write what happened in the 'Event' box. Then, start to fill in the remaining three boxes in any order.
Thoughts: How did you interpret the event? Did you use any forms of twisted thinking?
Emotions: How did you feel following the event?
Behaviours: How did you respond to the event?
Can you see any relationship between your thoughts, emotions, and behaviours in the previous exercise?
Discuss anything you have noticed with your mentor now.
Once we have gotten good at recognising the thoughts that are tied to negative emotions and how they impact us, it’s time to take a closer look at those thoughts and consider if we can change them.
One way of Identifying and Breaking Negative Thought Patterns is to clearly record our thoughts and scrutinise them as objectively as we can.
We want to put our thoughts on trial and look for evidence that shows if our thoughts are accurate.
Follow the Facts. The following series of steps will allow you to identify and re-evaluate negative thought patterns.
Step 1: Look for evidence that supports your thoughts
Evidence for my thought
Step 2: Look for evidence that does not support your thoughts
Evidence against my thought
Step 3: Look for possible examples of error in your thinking
Did you use any forms of twisted thinking?
Step 4: Identify a more accurate and helpful way of seeing the situation
What is a more accurate and helpful way of looking at the situation?
Step 5: Notice and record any effects of the new thought on your feelings and behaviours
What are the effects of the new thought?
See how Konrad, a single parent of two children used this approach when they forgot to call their best friend on their 30th Birthday. Konrad starts by recording their thoughts, feelings, and behaviours:
Event: Forgot to call friend on 30th Birthday
Thought: “I am a bad friend”.
Emotions: Guilt and worry.
Behaviours: Kept putting off calling friend to apologise.
Now it's time for Konrad to put their thoughts ("I am a bad friend") on trial by following the 5 steps:
Step 1: Evidence for my thought
- I forgot to call my friend on their special birthday.
- I haven’t caught up with my friend in a while and have ignored their last two texts
- My memory is not the best
- My friend is not going to want to speak to me now
Step 2: Evidence against my thought
- My friend knows I am busy with the kids and my life is not the easiest
- I have remembered to text or call him every other year
- Both of my kids were off school unwell and needed my full attention
- I am considerate that I have possibly upset my friend
Step 3: Were there any errors in your thinking?
- Jumping to Conclusions
- Emotional Reasoning
Step 4: What is a more accurate and helpful way of looking at the situation?
- I was busy looking after my daughters as they were sick and off school and did intend to call my friend. In the future, I will be sure to set reminders. It was not the end of the world and my friend was understanding when I finally called them.
Step 5: What are the effects of the new thought
-I no longer feel guilty or worried and it felt nice wishing my friend a happy birthday. I recognise that I am not perfect and that is ok.
Now have a go at completing your own Thought Record. Start by copying over your event, thoughts, emotions, and behaviours from exercise 3 into the boxes in exercise 4. Then, try evaluating your thoughts:
- Is there any evidence for this thought?
- Is there any evidence against this thought?
- Were there any errors in your thinking? Refer back to the content above.
- What is a more accurate and helpful way of looking at the situation?
- What are the effects of the new thought?
Hopefully you've been able to identify another way of looking at the event. You may also find that there was some evidence for your negative thoughts. You may even be sure that you're not using any twisted thinking at all. That's ok. We're all human and nobody is perfect!
If you've completed your thought record and you can't find any errors in your thinking, it may be helpful to ask yourself: "if it is true, what can I do?" Perhaps there are some positive changes you could make to address the situation. You can always learn from your mistakes and move forward.
Tons of information in this week we know, but it's some of the most important parts of Bazaar. This session looked closely at Problematic Thoughts, Twisted Thinking, the Vicious Cycle and Identifying and Breaking Negative Thought Patterns. For something that can’t be seen, heard, or measured, thoughts have incredible power.
This week, you will need to practise applying the Vicious Cycle model to any stand-out, negative events. Record your weekly thoughts, referencing ‘the event’, ‘your thoughts’ and ‘the result’.
Be mindful throughout your day about your thoughts and try to capture and clarify them in the moment without writing them down, this skill will come with practice. For more challenging thoughts, use the written technique to tune up your practice.