Don’t Always Believe Your Thoughts

Thoughts matter, especially when they are erroneous and cause you misery. When you have screwed up, for example, irrational thoughts can flood your mind, drowning you with harsh self-retributions.

For example, you forget to attend an important meeting. Somehow you missed putting it on your schedule or it was there but you were distracted and didn’t see it. The first thought that automatically comes to mind is

“I am such an idiot for forgetting that meeting. My life is totally out of control. I cannot live this way!”

If you then become reflective, you may find yourself saying, “I cannot believe I was thinking that!”  You know that these thoughts are out of character with who you really are as a person but they come anyway, resulting in feeling badly throughout the day.

In this posting I will show you how you can take back control of your automatic thoughts and in so doing, relieve you of this unnecessary misery.

The next time negative, automatic thoughts threaten to ruin your day, consider taking the time to reflect: 

1. First, acknowledge that automatic thoughts have seeds of truth in them. You did after all miss an important meeting.

2. Then, recognize that you have not given yourself permission to make mistakes. That is, by being so hard on yourself for missing the meeting, you are giving yourself the message that you have to perform perfectly and if you don’t, you have failed.

3. Further, consider that you may be “catastrophizing” by letting these automatic thoughts continue into spinning a “worst case” scenario; for example, “My boss will think I missed her important meeting because I don’t care about her or the issues being raised at the meeting.”

4. Finally, ask yourself if you are imposing a regimen of unreasonable “shoulds” on yourself. “You should…” sometimes reflect inflexible rules about how you and others should act. For example, rule breakers make you angry. When you break the rules you feel guilty.

Taking Back Your Automatic Thoughts

Thoughts matter because they can make you miserable and less productive, especially when they are irrational, destructive, or simply not true. Here is how to defuse these thoughts and get yourself back on an even keel:

1.  You might try a possible counter thought like:  “My schedule has been crazy today, no wonder I forgot the meeting.  I feel embarrassed, but really, this does not happen to me on a regular basis.” In so doing, you identified and replaced the negative, automatic thought with a more reasonable, accurate assessment.

2.  Replacing automatic thoughts with rational ones is a skill that must be learned, then practiced. Remember, your automatic thoughts may be a strong, even lifelong, habit. Give yourself time to learn new ways.

3.  Don’t try to suppress the negative thought. Rather, learn to see it for what it is, then replace it with a more balanced, reasonable thought. Suppressing unanalyzed thoughts can make you feel worse because you’re not dealing with the problem.

4.  Step back and analyze what you are doing; e.g., “I am catastrophizing” this situation.”

5.  Break the pattern of your thoughts by altering the rhythm of your life. Going to the gym, hiking in nature or attending a concert not only distracts you but also refocuses your life on rejuvenating activities.

6.  Bring yourself back to a centered state by discussing these thoughts with a trusted friend who can help you do some reality testing.

7.  Realize that you are especially susceptible to these thoughts when you are stressed out, tired, or generally in a bad mood. At such times, put out a “thought watch” so that pesky mental messages do not come out of the blue.

Automatic, negative thoughts are not necessarily true thoughts. We can learn to control these thoughts by seeing them for what they are and replacing them with rational assessments and self-compassion.

When you change these thoughts you change your life.

If you enjoyed my post, why not subscribe to my feed and join a growing number of world-wide readers?- Go to top right hand corner of page to email Subscription


About cedricj

I am a licensed psychologist and management consultant and have always been intrigued by how leaders can inspire people in their organizations. The bottom line is that people are not always motivated by material rewards, the use of the carrot or the stick, fear and intimidation,and command and control, Five human needs inspire and drive us. Kristine S MacKain, Ph.D and myself describe these inspirational forces in our book "What Inspirational Leaders Do" (Kindle 2008)
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Don’t Always Believe Your Thoughts

  1. studiomarie says:

    Another great post that hits right at home for me. I knew I had been giving into my inner critic when I missed an appointment, misplaced my keys, forgot to feed the dog etc. But I did not know how to diffuse it. Thanks for giving me a few practical pointers. M

  2. cedricj says:

    Thanks for your comment Marie. Really we all struggle with the harsh inner critic and need to sit down and talk sense to ourselves from time to time,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s