Adjust those negative thinking habits
By Lloyd J. Thomas, Ph.D. -
Our bodily physiology very rarely responds to events outside our bodies. Rather, we respond to our interpretation of those events…the meaning we give to them. Take the event of giving a speech in public. One person interprets that event as scary, shameful or humiliating. His body responds to the thought of public speaking with increased anxiety and stress. Another interprets a public speech as a fun opportunity to share information and knowledge. Her body responds with anticipation and delight to the thought of speaking publicly. Same event. Two different interpretations of the event. Two different thinking patterns. Two different physiological responses.
Mark Twain once said, “My life has been filled with terrible misfortunes…most of which never happened. Life does not consist mainly, or even largely of facts and happenings. It consists mainly of the storm of thoughts that is forever blowing through one’s head.” To me, this is no joke. I work with many people whose primary difficulties result from a “storm of thoughts” which are negative in nature. They are engaging in habits of negative thinking. They usually learned these habits in childhood. They haven’t learned new thinking habits after growing up.
Negative thinking habits can cause an increase in internal stress, an increase in angry or anxious feelings, a diminution of self-esteem, an impairment of good coping skills, an increase in emotional overreactions, even generate abrasive responses in relationships. Negative thinking habits make us feel miserable.
Psychologist, Bruce A. Baldwin, once wrote: “When negative ways of thinking are examined, it becomes obvious that a number of undesirable patterns crop up again and again. Whatever the origin, all are simply bad habits developed over the years, and because they have been learned, they can also be [replaced]. First, however, the dynamics of your particular patterns must be [recognized and] understood.”
We are usually unaware of our negative thinking habits. Before we can replace any thinking habit with another, we need to become aware of the habit we wish to replace. Here are a few common, often unconscious, negative thinking habits.
Making assumptions. Then responding to these assumptions as if they were true, or happening immediately. Most worrying is an anxious response to an assumed event. Replace assumption-making with responding only to facts or objective events. Always seek out accurate information about those events about which you worry.
Self-criticism. Many people carry on in internal monologue of self criticism or “put downs.” This always lowers one’s self-esteem. Replace criticism with realistic self-praise and affirmation.
Perfectionism. The belief that you and your actions must always be perfect in order to be acceptable. Perfectionist thinking always breeds bodily tension, fear and hyperactivity. It also leads to attempts to control everything. Replace perfectionist demands, with adequacy. Instead of constant “excellence,” go for “good enough.”
Cynical monologue. These thoughts diminish the joy one can have in the given moment. They create distrust in your relationships. They lower self-esteem. Replace cynicism with creative alternative values. Ones that you feel good about.
Blaming and name-calling. Blamers are always insecure within themselves. Name-calling is merely a self-defense. Replace blaming thoughts with focusing on your own worth and abilities to cope.
Remember, negative thinking habits reinforce harmful perceptions of yourself, others and the reality of the situation. They have been practiced over years. Replacement of such habits require awareness, persistence and a desire to feel better about your experience of living.
Dr. Thomas is a licensed psychologist, author, speaker, and life coach from Wellington, Colo.