A lot of us are driven crazy by our unrelenting, unforgiving thoughts in our heads, thoughts that are so quick to criticize us, add stress to an already stressful situation and even prevent us from trying new things. If we had a friend that spoke to us this way, we would get rid of them, but how do we tell our thoughts to get lost!?
Here are a few techniques based on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy that are simple and effective. Like anything, these practices can be awkward to implement at first, but with practice can make great changes.
In a nutshell, CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) tells us that we are disturbed more by how we talk to ourselves about our experiences than the experiences themselves.
“Your life is determined not so much by what life brings to you as by the attitude you bring to life; not so much by what happens to you as by the way your mind looks at what happens.” –Kahlil Gibran
World-renowned American psychologist, Albert Ellis, created the ABC Theory on Emotions:
A- Events that happen, either inside or outside of the body.
B- Self-talk, or how we interpret these events.
C- Physical, behavioral or emotional consequences.
Say you are in a sail boat. The water would be A: The Events that happen around us. Getting lost and sunburned are C: The Consequences, which is where most of us think our problems come from, but it’s the hole in the boat, B: Self-Talk, that is the real problem. The good news here, is that B is the only thing we CAN do something about most of the time. If events and consequences happen that we cannot control, at least we can try and patch the “negative thinking” hole in our boats to keep from getting sunk.
Emotional Reasoning is where we get stuck and start taking on water. When our self-talk kicks in emotionally, our perspective is zoomed in completely and we engage in destructive patterns like:
- Catastrophizing “My order didn’t arrive in time! Christmas is RUINED!”
- Zooming in on the Negative/Disqualifying the Positive
- Overgeneralizing “All men are jerks”.
- Jumping to Conclusions “She didn’t call me; she hates me”.
- Negative Predictions “This relationship will fall apart too”.
- All or Nothing Thinking “I ate ice cream again! I’ll never be able to eat healthy”.
When you hear yourself using the “Hot Words”, let it be a signal to you to apply some Rational Thinking. Our negative self-talk is usually the same things we repeat, like a movie reel playing the same bad movie over and over, so we can anticipate where we usually struggle and stay alert to how we can respond differently.
- Should: “I should work out every day; I’m such a loser for not doing so”. Dr. Ellis says, “Don’t should on yourself”.
- Must: “I must get an A or I am a failure”.
- Always: “I always blow it”.
- Never: “I’ll NEVER be healthy”.
- Can’t: “I can’t do Yoga”.
When you hear your self-talk start in with these hot words, you can Think Like a Scientist. Remind yourself that your thoughts are only guesses or interpretations, NOT facts. It is irrational for us to assume that our negative thoughts reflect reality.
Stay in the Present. What tense are you in? Are you wishing you had a better past, or are you worrying about the future that hasn’t happened yet? To show yourself the error of this pattern, bring to mind 5 things you worried about in the past. How many of those things actually happened? Cultivate patience with yourself, by using the power of “yet”. When you first learned to read, were you blazing through chapter books, or were you struggling to sound out Dick and Jane books? When you learned to drive, were you Mario Andretti from the first attempt? When you catch yourself pointing out your limitations, add a “yet” to the end of the statement. “I’m not fit and healthy….YET!”
Use Perspective. Imperfection is part of life. Nobody on the planet is perfect. Remember when you were in high school and each week seemed to bring a new life-or-death drama situation? How serious do you find those situations today? Do you even remember what they were? Will you remember this current problem in 5, 10, or 20 years?
“Defend” your irrational thought; would it stand up in a court of law? “I can’t do anything right”. Where’s the evidence? Can you prove it? Are there any things have you done right? Yes? Then this statement can’t possibly be true. Stick to the facts, Jack!
So What If…. When you catch yourself asking, “What if I _____?”, add a “So what if I _____?” Will you die? What will you still have if you do ______? Will you still have your health, your mind, the ability to experience love and nature? Running your worries through “So What If…” will defuse some of that fear and doubt. Imagine the worst thing happening and imagine yourself coping with it and you will be heading into your stressful event with more confidence in yourself.
Hopefully these strategies will give you what you need to tell your irrational thoughts to “Pipe down, while the grownups handle this!”
- Think of a past event that upset you. What was the event? What was the resulting thought/self-talk? What response/behavior did that lead to? Now, rework the whole thing using some Rational Thought principles. Now, apply this to a future event you are worried about.
- Observe your thoughts during your next meal or snack. Did any “hot” words come up? Any irrational statements? How could you rework them if there are?