Negative Thinking:

When our thinking patterns cause problems for us, this self-sabotage is usually the result of negative thinking.

Blaming. Either you make someone or something else responsible for your problems—in which case you perpetuate the idea that you are a victim—or you put all the responsibility on yourself—in which case you can become depressed and unable to take any action to solve your problems.

“If Bob hadn’t been late I wouldn’t have gotten a speeding ticket. It’s all his fault.”

“I’m such a stupid person. I can’t do anything right.”

Should, Must, and Ought. You imply that either you or someone else has failed to live up to an expected standard.

“I shouldn’t be so bothered when the airplane hits a little turbulence.”

“My mother should be more understanding when I don’t want to fly across country to see her.”

Polarized Thinking. You think of things as polar opposites, with no room in between, so every effort you make is either success or total failure.

“If I don’t get through this flight without panicking, that treatment program was just a waste.”

“If my back starts hurting I’ll never get any better.”

Catastrophizing. You imagine the worst possible outcome and then react as if it will come true.

“What if I try to get on the plane but can’t? I’ll lose my job and never be able to work again.”

“What if my back starts to hurt? It will be unbearable, and I will have to be in agony for hours.”

Resignation (or Being Controlled). Either you see yourself controlled by others who have total power over your fate, or you see yourself totally responsible for—and therefore controlled by—everyone else.

“My husband says psychology is a lot of bunk, so I can’t practice relaxation exercises.”

“If I don’t get over this quickly, the new project at work will fail.”

Emotional Reasoning. You assume that what you feel must be true.

“I feel scared. The plane is going to crash, I just know it.”

“There’s that back pain again. It’s hopeless; I’ll never get any better.”

Intensifying (or Filtering). You focus only on the problem and nothing else, filtering out any positive elements of your experience.

“I can’t bear to look out the window when there is any turbulence.”

“When my back is hurting like this I can’t be bothered with what the children want.”

Entitlement. You feel entitled to a life without problems.

“Look at them. They don’t have to work at being relaxed. It’s not fair. Why do I have to work so hard?”

Change Negative Thinking:

The most difficult aspect of changing negative thinking is noticing the thinking pattern in the first place. Thoughts that occur in response to triggering events usually happen so fast that we aren’t even aware of them. That’s why it can seem as though the event causes the emotion. So your first task will be to spend some effort noticing your thoughts and keeping a record of them.

Therefore, take a few days to listen to your inner thinking. Write down as many internal statements as you can. Compare them to the styles of negative thinking outlined above.

Once you have identified the sorts of things you tend to tell yourself, you can work on changing—or disputing—the beliefs.

Blaming. If you are blaming others, remind yourself that your actions are the result of your own choices.

“Yes, Bob was late. But speeding was my own decision.”

For self-blame, remind yourself that you are doing the best you can and that progress takes time.

“I did the best I could. I’ll get better with practice.”

Should, Must, and Ought. Learn to see things the way they are. Only then can you find a solution to the problem.

“Turbulence does scare me. But after I have read about it and understand what it’s all about, it won’t be so bad.”

“If my mother can’t understand my fear, that’s her problem. I’ll overcome this problem without her help.”

Polarized Thinking. Be patient with yourself and accept progress at its own pace let the here and now be enough.

“I closed my eyes and felt comfortable for a half hour. That’s a big improvement over last time.”

“If my back starts to hurt, I’ll practice my relaxation exercises. I’ll get through it.”

Catastrophizing. Acknowledge your fear, and then challenge it.

“OK. I will be afraid as I’m boarding. But have I ever run away from other problems before? No.”

“OK. Maybe my back will start to hurt. But I do have things I can do to relax. All things will pass.”

Resignation (or Being Controlled). Give yourself credit for your own good sense. Realize that though you may be valuable, no one is indispensable.

“Well, maybe my husband doesn’t understand psychology, but I have seen how it has benefitted other people, and it just might help me.”

“I need to take the time to let my healing happen at its own pace. Other people at work can fill in if I can’t be in the lead.”

Emotional Reasoning. Accept the feeling for what it is. Give it credit for what it is telling you. And then make an informed decision.

“OK. I feel scared. No one enjoys being bumped around like this. But I’ve read about turbulence, and it’s not all that dangerous. We will get through it.”

“OK. I’m feeling some pain. So slow down. Be careful. Relax.”

Intensifying (or Filtering). Expand your awareness beyond the unpleasant situation and open yourself to positive aspects of the experience.

“Look. It’s a nice view. Sitting here paralyzed won’t make the plane any safer.”

“I have the skills to get through this. Look at how much fun the kids are having. What a joy to have them in my life.”

Entitlement. Well, life is not fair. But more than that, realize that every difficulty can draw strength, courage, and creativity out of you. Your trials can be a blessing, if you accept them with faith.

“Yes, many other people don’t seem to have to work at being relaxed. But who knows what other problems they have to struggle with. At least I’m discovering an inner peace I never had before.”

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