Tag Archives: depressed

Is Your Mind in a Constant State Of Emergency?

negative thinking, worry, fear, disaster, pain

In a previous post I mentioned that in my journey of self-discovery and self-improvement I came across the book Thoughts and Feelings by Matthew McKay, Martha Davis, and Patrick Fanning.  I learned a lot from this book, especially in the area of automatic thoughts and negative thinking patterns.  One of the negative thinking patterns that truly resonated with me was what the authors called “Catastrophizing,” which basically means turning any seemingly negative situation, no matter how small, into a major catastrophe in our minds.  For instance, not getting the job after an interview may mean that we will never find a job. When failing to make a sale, the salesman may conclude that he’s a failure.

People who catastrophize tend to use phrases that start with “What if…” and what follows these words is usually something negative and of an apocalyptic magnitude.  Here are some examples of everyday scenarios and some of the thoughts that may surface for a person who tends to catastrophize:

[While going for a night out] What if my house gets burglarized while I’m out?
[While driving on the freeway] What if I one of my tires blow up while I’m driving?
[When about to give a presentation] What if the entire audience hates me?
[When going into a tall building] What if there’s an earthquake while I’m in the building?
[When experiencing a headache] What if I have a brain tumor?
[Regarding our kids] What if my son starts using drugs?
[When watching a movie at the theater] What if there is a fire?
[When taking a flight] What if the plane malfunctions and crashes?
[When hearing of a couple who got divorced] What if it happens to me?
And the list goes on and on.

Now I’m sure many of us have experienced some form of automatic negative thoughts along these lines at some point or another, especially when something negative happened recently that may be related to the situation in which we are.  For instance, if we’re watching a movie at the theater and we suddenly recall that we heard in the news about a recent fire at a movie theater and recall hearing that there were many victims, the thought that it could happen to us may suddenly take a hold of us and cause a wave of panic to sweep over us.

This is normal and can usually go away with a bit of rationalizing; a person who does not tend to catastrophize will usually ask him or herself, “What are the odds that it could happen to me?” and this is usually enough to stop the negative thinking pattern and be able to enjoy the movie.

However, for a person who tends catastrophize it’s not as simple.  One catastrophic thought leads to another, the images in their minds become more and more vivid, and pretty soon they find themselves almost feeling as if the situation is already happening to them.  At this point it becomes practically impossible for them to enjoy the movie, and they may end up choosing to leave the theater because the uncomfortable feelings are just too strong to ignore.  As you can imagine, the level of stress and mental anguish that a person experiences as a result of these negative thinking patterns are very high.

So how can we deal with this?

Catastrophizing is a mental habit, and as such, the more we do it the stronger the habit becomes.  So the first thing we need to do is become aware of when we’re doing it.  This awareness will also be a tool in helping us stop the negative thinking pattern.

We also need to develop a plan action in advance.  If we know that we tend to catastrophize, we need to select a few techniques that we can use once we become aware of the negative thinking pattern.  Once technique I found extremely useful was asking myself the same question I was already asking (“What if …”) but in a positive way instead.  For instance, if my catastrophizing thought was, “What if my marriage fails?” I would switch it to, “What if my wife and I find a way to reconcile? What if everything turns out ok? What if everything is better tomorrow?” or something along those lines.  I would make it a point to replace every catastrophizing thought with 3-5 better feeling thoughts, and this usually did the trick.  Not only would I save myself unnecessary mental and physical stress, but I would also free my mind to consider better possibilities and see opportunities to improve my situation.

I used multiple positive “what if” questions in order to re-train or re-condition my mind to take this route instead of the one it was used to taking.  Remember, catastrophizing is a mental habit and like any other habit, the best way to get rid of it (in fact, some argue it’s the only way to get rid of it) is to replace it with another habit that serves us better. And just like anything else, the more we do it the stronger the new habit will become and the weaker the old habit will be.

The key here is to use better feeling thoughts that are believable to us, as opposed to positive but unrealistic thoughts that we don’t believe.  If I said to myself “Everything will be wonderful tomorrow!” not only would I be deluding myself but my mind would not accept it, and I would experience a different kind of stress caused by the conflict between my current reality and what I’m trying to make myself believe.

The magic of “What if” is that we open ourselves up to the possibility of something positive happening; we’re not forcing it and we’re not pretending it, we’re simply acknowledging the possibility of it.  Shifting our attention from the catastrophic thought to the possibility of something positive happening has the ability to help us feel more peaceful and at ease almost instantly.

Another good technique to use in conjunction with the “What if” technique is the rubber band method I shared with you in a previous post.  Wearing a rubber band around our wrist and snapping it lightly when we catch ourselves in the middle of a negative thought pattern can help snap us out of it, and then we can switch to using the “what if” technique described above to ease ourselves into better feeling thoughts.

Negative thinking patterns can be replaced with positive ones, but it takes patience, dedication and persistence.  If you find that you experience this negative pattern of catastrophizing, give this a try and let me know how it works for you.  Or if you have any other techniques that have worked for you, please feel free to share them in the comments box below.  I’d love to hear from you!

To your success!

JC

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Are You Acting Like Your Best Friend Or Your Worst Enemy?

What do you do when you become aware of an aspect of your life that doesn’t please you?  Do you become your greatest enemy or your best friend?  It’s easy to tell.  If you find that you’re saying things to yourself like “I’m so stupid,” “there, I’ve done it again,” “how could I be so dumb,” or anything along those lines, you are not your best friend.  Would you say any of those things to your best friend?  What if this is not the first time they did it, would you say that to them?  What if they weren’t careful enough or acted in an irresponsible manner, would you say that to them?

Chances are that you would not say stuff like that even to a stranger, much less to someone you know and love.  Most people wouldn’t talk to us that way either, yet when it comes to ourselves we turn into our worst enemies when we should be the ones offering kindness, support, love, understanding and encouragement to ourselves in any situation.

It is very possible, in fact probable that the unkind words we say to ourselves are not our own, or at the very least, we did not pick them out of thin air.  Most, if not all, of that negative self-talk we’ve been repeating to ourselves we picked up along the way in the form of direct or indirect comments or expressions that made us feel that way.  We heard those words or the essence of those words so often that at one point we adopted them as our own without even realizing it, and we’ve been repeating them to ourselves ever since.

And has that helped at all?  Has the negative self-talk and self-criticism helped us to improve our situation or behavior at all?  Did it then?  Did it make us more productive, more efficient, more aware, more determined to try again, more confident? I’m willing to bet that it did not and has not.  In fact, if anything, it exacerbated the problem.  The negative self-talk turned situations into bigger deals than they were, making us feel even more embarrassed, ashamed, depressed, sad, guilty, afraid, etc. which only kept us focused on what went wrong and prevented us from seeing the good and making real progress.

So why, then, is negative self-talk our go-to tool for fixing ourselves? Why do we even think that we need to be fixed?  Whether we realize it or not, that is the essence of our negative self-talk, isn’t it?  We can easily wrap the entire scope of negative self-talk into this statement: “I’m bad, I’m broken, and I need to be fixed.” But this couldn’t be further from the truth.

The truth is that we’re neither bad nor broken; we are human, and as humans, we make mistakes. We mess up, sometimes due to negligence or carelessness and sometimes due to lack of knowledge or experience.  But this does not make us bad or broken, no matter how many times it happens. Each of those experiences has something to teach us, and our job is to get the message, learn the lesson and keep moving forward. Our self-talk should encourage us to do just that, instead of paralyzing us and keeping us from trying again.

We must treat ourselves the way we would treat a growing baby who is just learning to walk. We would never call him foul names or verbally put him down no matter how many times he fell down.  We also should not go the other extreme and turn to feel sorry for him, gasping or making sad faces, to the point where he feels sorry for himself and doesn’t want to try again. We would use a chirpy tone and kind words like, “It’s OK baby, you can try again! Come on, get up, you can do it! I know you can!”  If he hurt himself in the process, we would not say, “See that’s what you get for trying that! Serves you right.”  We would nurture him and still tell him to try again.

Can you imagine what would happen if we used negative feedback every time the baby fell down?  He would learn, soon enough, not to try to walk again because whenever he does, not only does he fail to accomplish his goal and possibly get hurt, but he gets yelled at, called bad names, or made to feel like a horrible creature.  Would you want to attempt walking again?  And yet, Isn’t that what’s happening to us as adults? Aren’t we keeping ourselves from walking (substitute the word “walking” for any endeavor you’ve given up on) because we don’t want to experience the negative feelings that result from the way we scold ourselves?

So today I want to invite you to be kind to yourself.  Whenever you accomplish something good or whenever you make a mistake or fall on your face (literally or metaphorically), treat yourself the way you would treat your best friend.  Use encouragement, love, kindness, understanding, support, and all forms of positive reinforcement.  I guarantee you that you’ll see great improvement, not only in the way you feel, but in the way you approach life. From now, commit to be your own best friend.  You’ll thank yourself later.

Do you have any input on this subject?  Drop me a line in the comment box below or email me directly at jc@effect180.com.  I’d love to hear from you!

To your success!

JC

Tagged , , , , , , ,

How to Determine If You Should Keep Holding On To Your “Shoulds”

Not very long ago I felt very disappointed in myself.  There were several things that I knew I should be doing but wasn’t doing them, and this made me feel like a hopeless failure.  I had been carrying around those “shoulds” for several years and every time I thought about them I felt an immense amount of guilt and shame for not being strong enough, and for not using my will power to force myself to do the things I knew I should be doing.

I later learned that these “shoulds” are very damaging to our sense of self-worth because they make us feel incompetent and less-than; they give us the impression that we are wrong or that we are doing something wrong. They weigh us down just as if we were carrying actual weights tied around our neck and shoulders, and cause us to look down on ourselves and blame our lack of discipline or will-power.

One day I came across the book “You Can Heal Your Life” by Louise Hay. In one of the chapters Louise mentions an approach that she uses in her sessions with some of her clients.  This approach involves taking a close look at those “shoulds” we have carried around on our shoulders for years, and really assessing whether they should remain with us or be discarded once and for all.

Louise’s approach works as follows:

  1. Fold a piece of writing paper in half. On the first half make a list of all the “shoulds” that come to mind. Begin each sentence with “I should [fill in the blank].”  Really take the time to find all those “shoulds” you’ve been carrying around and bring them to the forefront of your mind, and write them down.
  2. On the second half of the paper, write “Why?” as the heading; now, for each “should” that you listed in step 1, write down the reason why you should be doing it. Don’t second guess your answers; simply write whatever first comes to mind.
  3. Now you are going to go down the list of your “shoulds” one more time, except this time instead of beginning your sentence with “I should [fill in the blank]” you are going to begin each sentence with “If I really wanted to, I could [fill in the blank].” Notice that this puts a whole new light on the matter.  See if you experience any difference in the way you feel when you state your “shoulds” as “coulds” instead. After each of these statements ask yourself this question. “Why haven’t I?” And answer it honestly.

This exercise was very revealing to me.  It allowed me to clearly see that many of the things that I was beating myself up for all those years weren’t even my idea to begin with. These were ideas that were put there by other people in my life who thought that I “should” do them.  And many of these I didn’t even really want to do!  I remembered how inferior I felt when a member of my family said I should “be smart like so and so who is younger than you and already bought a house.”  What a load of baloney! Anything that fell in this category I discarded immediately, and oh what a relief that was!

As Louise explains,

There are so many people who try to force themselves for years into a career they don’t even like only because their parents said they “should” become a dentist or a teacher.

If you have been carrying around a bunch of “shoulds” that have caused you to develop guilt, shame or low self-esteem, I encourage you to give Louise’s approach a try.  If you find out that these “shoulds” shouldn’t be part of your life, don’t carry them around any longer! Write them down on a separate piece of paper, ball it up and burn it. You’ll feel tremendous amount of relief once you let them go.  If you can’t get rid of a “should” for whatever reason (be sure it’s a valid one), then at least see if you can reframe it in a way that does not cause you to feel any negative feeling when you think of it. You’ll love yourself more in the process.

Do you have any input on the subject that you would like to share?  Drop me a line in the comment box below.

I’d love to hear from you!

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Shattering the Illusion of Control

Holding a Crystal Ball

Before I began my self-improvement journey I used to think that I was in charge.  I used to believe that it was my job to be in control of making sure that my family was safe, that we had a roof over our heads and food on the table, and that the money I made was enough to take care of all our needs.  Boy was I mistaken!

I was the head of the household and the only person in my family getting paid for my work, so that did sort of place some responsibility on my shoulders.  Notice I did not say that I was the only person working; that would not have been true, because my wife did work and more so than me, she just didn’t get paid for it.  My job at least ended when I left the office, and I usually had nights and weekends free.  Her job as a mother and homemaker, however, didn’t allow for such privileges. She literally worked around the clock.

Back in those days I was confusing responsibility with outcome, and in my mind there seemed to be no distinction between the two, especially when it came to providing for my family.  You see, I believed that if I was not able to provide for my family, if I wasn’t able to take care of our needs, that would mean that I was a failure.

Back in those days I had a job that paid okay; not good but okay. Back then not only did I believe that this was probably the best I could do with my knowledge and experience, I also believed that there was no other job out there that would provide the flexibility I needed to be able to take care of my family.  The job provided a certain level of safety for me and my family, so even though I knew I wasn’t getting paid very well, I felt it necessary for me to stay in that job in order to remain in control of my family situation.

I also believed that I had to watch our expenses like a hawk in order to make sure we had enough money for rent, food, and other necessities, so I would often worry and stress greatly about our finances. Even when there was enough money to cover our need, I used to worry that we would overspend or that something would happen that would put us in the negative; after all, we were barely making it every month.  So I had to be vigilant and watchful of our expenses in order to remain in control of our finances.

These were just two of the many ways I worried and stressed for many years (and caused those around me to worry and stress) because I believed that I had control, and that it was my job to have control.  Once I began my self-improvement journey, however, I soon discovered that much of my worry and stress and my excessive need to have control was founded in fear.  Fear of becoming a failure; fear of not having enough; fear of not being enough.

My mentality was, “It is my job to ensure that my family is safe.”  But I could never be with them 24 hours of the day, 7 days a week.  I was at work or otherwise occupied in some task for many hours, and not with them, not watching over them, not protecting them, so who was in control during that time? Not me.

My mentality was, “It is my job to ensure that our needs are provided for, because if I don’t do it, who will?” But my health and my life were not guaranteed; I could have easily dropped dead or fallen ill at any point in time; who would have provided for our needs then? Who would have been in control then? Not me.

With a little analysis, my illusion of control was equally shattered in all other areas of my life in which I believed I had control.  I realized then that I wasn’t in control, and that the control I seemed to have was no more than an illusion created by me and the expectations I imposed on myself.  The reality was that my only job was to ensure that I did my best, and then the outcome would be taken care of just as it always was. My responsibility is not, and has never been, the outcome. My responsibility has always and only been my effort.  And this effort was not limited to me working hard at my job, but it included making sure that I changed and improved my thought patterns to allow me to see the resources and opportunities readily available to me.

When I realized this I felt tremendous relief.  It was like having a huge weight lifted off of my shoulders. The effects were almost instant. I began to see and explore other possibilities that I didn’t even know existed.  I began to see life in a new light and to believe that better things were possible. My attitude and demeanor improved greatly and so did my health because I no longer carried the burden of results on my shoulders. I realized then that I no longer had to fear being enough, because my being enough was never measured by any external circumstance. In fact, being enough was a state that nothing or no one could take away.

Yes, I did get a better job, and not just one that paid better, but one that actually provided greater flexibility and better benefits for me and my family.  I now make it a point to share this with whoever will listen.  Whenever I hear someone speak of their worries it reminds me of the way I used to think back then. So I try to help them realize that they are enough just as they are, and that their only job is to focus on themselves putting their best effort forward. I encourage them to let go of the illusion and see and embrace the reality and the truth, because in the end, the truth will set them free.

Do you have any input on this subject?  Drop me a line in the comment box.

I’d love to hear from you!

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

How Negative Thinking Can Twist Your Reality And Ruin Your Life – Part 2

In my last post I talked about automatic negative thoughts being the reason behind our negative emotions, and explained that it is the meaning that we have attached to people, circumstances and events that trigger the automatic negative thinking cycle rather than the people, circumstances and events themselves.

Today we’ll be looking at ways to identify those negative thinking patterns as the first step towards stopping them and ultimately changing them.

Here are some characteristics of automatic negative thoughts to help you identify them.  As you read, try to see if you can relate to any of them:

  • Automatic negative thoughts often express themselves as one or two words which we already associate with some negative meaning, for instance, fear or loneliness. Sometimes they don’t express themselves as words at all, but rather as flashes or brief images, or even as memories of scents, sensations, taste, etc. I my case I experienced this in an intensified manner. The memory of a person who had broken my trust in the past was enough to put me in a bad mood, and that memory could be triggered by the mere mention of the person’s name.  All of a sudden my demeanor would change to the point that it was clearly discernible to those around me that something was bothering me.  This happened because the utterance of single word (the person’s name) triggered a series of automatic negative thoughts associated with that person breaking my trust.
  • Automatic negative thoughts are usually very believable to us; when they occur, we tend to grant them the same validity as the validity we ascribe to things we perceive with our senses such as the color or texture of an object. Basically, we think it therefore it must be true.
  • Automatic negative thoughts often involve words such as should or ought to, which imply a certain level of expectation whether from ourselves or from others. A person may think, “I should clean the house because it’s a mess.” This is a self-imposed expectation which, if not fulfilled, may result in negative emotions such as self-blame or feelings of failure or low self-esteem.  And while it’s true that some “shoulds” are valid, they happen so automatically that we tend to take them at face value without analyzing them or modifying them to fit the situation.
  • Automatic negative thoughts tend to exaggerate (or as the book “Thoughts and Feelings” calls it, “awfulize”) the situation. They tend to predict and expect the worst in everything. And while this may have its function in helping us prepare for worst-case scenarios, we must learn to keep these thoughts in the proper perspective as tools rather than as reality.
  • Automatic negative thoughts vary tremendously from the way we describe our circumstances or events to others. When speaking to others we tent to describe our situations in a cause and effect context; however, our self-talk about the same situation may include words of blame or guilt or detrimental predictions. For instance I could say to someone, “I’m feeling sad because I hurt your feelings.” But internally, my self-talk would be more like, “I’m a terrible person. I can’t believe I did it again.   What kind of a monster am I?”
  • Automatic negative thoughts are generally theme-based, especially in the case of chronic emotions. For instance, chronic anger may be caused by thoughts about deliberate hurtful words or behavior from others, and chronic anxiety may be caused by thoughts of danger or impending doom. I could see now that my chronic anger stemmed from my thoughts about other people looking to intentionally hurt me or take advantage of me in some way.

These are just a few of characteristics to help you identify automatic negative thoughts.  On my next post I will provide some tips on how to go about stopping the cycle before it spins out of control, and we’ll explore some techniques we can implement to change the direction of our thoughts.

Do you have any additional input on this subject that you’d like to share? If so, please do so in the comment box below.

I’d love to hear from you!

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

How Negative Thinking Can Twist Your Reality And Ruin Your Life

There are many things I’ve had to work on and address as part of my self-improvement journey, but one of the main things was being able to spot and change my negative thinking.  For as long as I can remember I suffered from chronic negative emotions such as anger and fear.  As a result of this I unintentionally ended up hurting people I loved with my words and actions.  I wanted to change these negative patterns of behavior but I didn’t know how to go about it.  At one point I came across a book by Matthew McKay, Martha Davis, and Patrick Fanning called “Thoughts and Feelings – Taking Control of Your Moods & Your Life.”  This book helped me tremendously and was an excellent tool for what I wanted to accomplish.

One of the first things I learned was that thoughts and thought patterns, rather than people, circumstances or events, were the cause behind my negative emotions.  As easy as it would be to blame my anger, fear, frustration, sadness, irritation, or whatever it was on a person or situation, it was always a thought or a series of thoughts that would precede and give birth to my emotions, and subsequently to my behavior.

I learned that situations in and of themselves are neutral and have no emotional content; but it is our interpretation of those situations that causes our emotions.  This was a little bit difficult for me to accept and process at first.  Surely if something appeared to me to be negative, it had to be! Looking at a situation and judging it for what it was, it was clear to me that the situation was the trigger behind my negative emotions.  But I quickly learned that that was my black-and-white mentality speaking, and a little bit of logic proved me wrong.

If in fact it the situation was the cause behind my negative emotions, absolutely everyone experiencing that situation would also experience the same negative emotions, isn’t that so?  Allow me to illustrate.  Let’s say that my teenage son has a 10 PM curfew, and he has broken the curfew several times in the past; the last time he did this I let him off with a stern warning.  Today he decided that he would not respect the curfew yet again, and came home well after midnight.  When he walked in I reacted by getting upset and irritated at him for disrespecting me and being careless and dismissive of the household rules.

But let’s say that a stranger was walking by the house just as my son was returning home, well after midnight.  Would the stranger have reacted in the same manner? It would be weird if he had.  The stranger is not emotionally involved with my son or the situation, so he would have no emotional reaction even though he observed the exact same situation I observed. Although very simplistic, this is a good example that demonstrates that the situation itself was not the cause of my angry outburst.

What then, was the real cause behind my anger and irritation about this situation? The answer? My interpretation of it; the meaning that this situation had to me, or put another way, my thoughts about the situation, regardless of how fleeting or unnoticed those thoughts were.

Here’s where I learned that if I changed my thoughts, it would logically follow that I would also change my emotions.  The tricky part was being able to identify the thoughts because they seemed to happen so quick and almost unnoticed, as if my brain was bypassed altogether and my emotions spontaneously expressed themselves.

But cognitive therapy tells us that that doesn’t happen.  There is always a thought behind every feeling, and being able to spot those thoughts is the first step towards changing behavioral patterns.  This is a skill I would recommend to anyone looking to improve their lives.  And it is indeed a skill, for it takes dedication and practice.

The situation->thoughts->emotions->behavior sequence is not always as clear as in the example I described above. Sometimes, our own emotions and behaviors join the cycle and create yet another situation which is followed by additional thoughts which then give birth to additional emotions and behavior, which then become another situation….and the cycle goes on and on.

For instance, imagine that you are on your way to work, but your car doesn’t start.  What is a possible emotional cycle that may result from this?

  1. Situation: Car does not start.
  2. Thought: “I can’t believe this. I’ll be late for work again! And my boss warned me that I’d be fired if I came in late again.”
  3. Emotions: anxiety, fear, irritation; sweaty palms, heart beating fast.
  4. Thought: “If I lose my job we won’t be able to pay the bills. It will be very difficult for me to find another job, especially these days. We will lose the house!
  5. Emotions: more anxiety, more fear; feeling sick to your stomach, dizziness.
  6. Thought: “We’ll be homeless. We’ll have to move to my in-laws and they don’t like me already. They’ll blame this entire situation on me. My mother-in-law will drive me crazy!”
  7. Emotions: sheer panic.

You can see how easy it is to get carried away by these cycles.  We’re constantly making interpretations and assigning meaning to the situations that we encounter in our lives. We judge events as good or bad, pleasurable or painful, relaxing or stressful. These judgments and labels are the result of the constant chatter going on in our minds, and this is why these thoughts are very subtle and rarely noticeable.

Since childhood we have practiced habitual patterns of thinking and have been conditioned to interpret our lives’ circumstances and events a certain way.  There will always be situations and events which will have some level of negative meaning to us; and unless we learn to identify the cycle and put into practice some techniques to break it, we’ll be in a highly stressful state most of our lives.

In my next post I will share with you some of the most common characteristics of these automatic negative thought patterns to which most of us fall prey to one degree or another, and then we’ll start looking at some techniques that we can implement right away to help us get out of the cycle. In the meantime share with us! Do you believe you’ve fallen into the automatic negative thinking trap? When does it usually happen? What have you done to get out of it?

I’d love to hear from you!

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,