Change your perspective. Change your life.
Take a look at the image below. What do you see?
Do you see a storm coming on or just some gray clouds passing by? Do you see sprouting weeds or blooming flowers? Do you see sunshine pushing through or fading away? You can take from this photograph what you may but bottom line is that it’s all about perceptions. We see mainly what we look for, thereby formulating our own version of reality. Our mind is but the ruler of our life. When we can change our way of thinking we can change our life. But how you may ask?
One of my favorite quotes by Buddha states “our life is shaped by our mind; we become what we think.” Changing our thinking patterns isn’t easy, that’s for sure, but it’s more than possible. The way we think and the perspective patterns we take haven’t developed over night. They developed over time, through our childhood, history, and experiences, whether good or bad. They developed by the expectations set upon us, the expectations we were taught to bestow upon ourselves, as well as by the inevitable experiences life has thrown at us and the reaction patterns that resulted thereof. We foster cognitive distortions as unhealthy and irrational thinking patterns naturally without fault. However, this doesn’t mean that we can’t do anything about it either. Since negative thinking patterns didn’t develop overnight, positive thinking patterns are not going to develop over night as well. It just means that it’ll take some time, consistency, dedication, commitment, and effort put into the process to alter our thinking patterns.
So how do we do this? How do we create healthy and positive styles of thinking?
Step 1: Identifying thought patterns
First step is building awareness. I say this all the time with my clients and I can’t say it enough but we can’t change something we are not aware of. Therefore, in order to develop a positive thinking pattern, we must first devote our time, energy, and efforts into identifying our negative thinking patterns. This can be done by keeping a thought log or journal in which you can jot down the thoughts that occur whenever you notice a shift in mood. It’s going to be hard at first because our thoughts occur relatively quickly and more often than not, outside of our awareness. Therefore, this is going to take a lot of introspection and self-reflection as you ask yourself “what was going through my mind?” Since we are much more aware of our emotions, it may be easier to start there, by paying attention to any shift in mood throughout the day and using that as your cue to help identify your thoughts. Identify the way you’re talking to yourself with thoughts like “I’m stupid, I’m not good enough, or I’m a bad person” or the way you view others and the world with thoughts like “others will think I’m weak if I cry, life is always unfair to me, or why me?” Take a look at this list of cognitive distortions and see if you can relate.
Step 2: Challenging the thought
Once you’ve had enough practice with identifying your negative thinking patterns or cognitive distortions, it’s time to start challenging them. This can be done in multiple different ways. One way would be through Socratic questioning by examining the evidence for that thought. Another way to challenge your thoughts could be by defining terms. For example, if you say, “I’m stupid,” try defining the term “stupid” and then see whether you actually fit into that description.
Step 3: Reframing or modifying the thought
The third and final step is coming up with an alternative thought. For example, if you don’t get the job your interviewed for, instead of saying to yourself “I’m not good enough, I’ve never find a job, nobody wants me” you could say something like “There were a lot of qualified applicants and I just have to keep looking.” As you can see, the first thought may lead to feelings of hopelessness and ultimately giving up, therefore, never even giving yourself the opportunity to get job, only reinforcing the negative thinking pattern itself. On the flip side, the second thought leads to more neutral feelings and allows you to move forward in the job search while not discrediting your potential and abilities. It’s important to not skip step 2 in this process because challenging the thought is what helps create the alternative one. It is highly important that we create an alternative thought that we truly believe, therefore, challenging provides that support.
The idea behind this is known as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). It is the notion that our thoughts influence the way we feel and therefore the way we behave. Ultimately, it is not the situation that happens to us but how we perceive that situation that determines our reaction to it. There will always be multiple ways to view any given situation or event, and we have control as to how we choose to view it. It’s matter of gaining that control back if it’s been lost in the lies that we feed ourselves stemming from depression, trauma, and anxiety. Stay tuned for more blog posts about the ideas behind CBT and how they work.
If you are finding yourself struggling with depression, anxiety, or trauma and need some assistance in overcoming your self-defeating thoughts, please contact Life Enhancement Counseling Services today at 407-443-8862 to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced Orlando mental health counselors. We have counselors that specialize in CBT and we are here to support and guide you toward living the life you want to live.