I am a master, a master I tell you, of creating dire scenarios of things that could happen. After giving my friend at least a dozen reasons as to why something in my life wouldn’t work out, she said something rather simple, yet powerful:
“You’re really creative. So good at coming up with all these negative thoughts and problems. Why not use that amazing power to come up with healthy, positive thoughts and scenarios?”
In a previous post, I spoke about ANTs – those creepy, crawly, automatic negative thoughts that always seem to pop up when you least expect them. Here are some tips on how to exterminate your ANTs once and for all. And I will tell you this: Being the stubborn, over-analytical, anxiety-prone, and negative person that I am, I make sure to offer advice that I myself would follow. So if something works for me, there is a good chance that it will work for you.
“Should” Thoughts (or “Must,” Have to,” “Ought to”)
- “I shouldn’t get angry, it’s wrong.”
- “I should be doing something productive instead of relaxing.”
- “My children have to do well in school or people will think I’m a bad parent.”
- “People should be nice to me all the time.”
- “I should have known better.”
Counter “should” thoughts with these questions, and then do your best to answer them honestly:
- Is this my belief or someone else’s?
- Just because some people believe this, does it necessarily mean it is absolutely true?
- Am I being fair to myself when I think this way?
Here’s another great tip: Replace “should” with “prefer” and then create a counter-argument:
- “I would prefer not to get angry, but it’s ok if I do. Keeping frustration bottled up is unhealthy.”
- “I would prefer to be doing something productive instead of relaxing, but I deserve a break every once in a while.”
- “I would prefer if my children did well in school, but if they don’t that doesn’t make me a bad parent. The fact that I care about my children’s success shows that I am a good parent.”
- “I would prefer if people were nice to me all the time, but some people will have bad days, just like I do.”
- “I would have preferred to have make a different choice, but there is no way I could have predicted what would have happened.”
Mind Reading and Fortune Telling Thoughts
- “She hasn’t called – she must be upset with me.”
- “They were whispering when I walked into the room – they must have been talking about me.”
- “He seems quiet and distant tonight – he’s thinking of breaking up with me.”
- “My boss treated me rather curtly today – she probably didn’t like the way I did that project.”
- “Everyone heard my boss point out the error I made; they must all think that I’m incompetent.”
- “This party is going to suck. I’ll have no one to talk to and I won’t enjoy myself.” (So what do you do? You sit yourself in some corner, moping, rather than socializing with other people. As a result, you don’t enjoy yourself at the party, and voila – your prediction comes true.).
- “No matter how well I plan, something always goes wrong.”
- “I always find a way to mess things up.”
- “I don’t know why I bothered studying. I’m going to fail this test.
- “Going on this date is pointless. He’s not going to like me.”
Questions to counter mind reading and fortune telling thoughts:
- What are the chances that this is true? (Create an actual percentage!)
- Do I have solid, irrefutable proof that my belief is true?
- What’s the worst that could happen if my suspicions are correct? Will I die? Will the sky come crashing down? Will the world end? I may be sad, but I will move on eventually.
- If I were in Las Vegas, would I be willing to bet all of my life savings that my belief is true? (I LOVE this one!)
Catastrophizing or Over-generalizing Thoughts
- “I can’t do this presentation. I’ll mess up, people will laugh, and I’ll be humiliated.”
- “If I make one mistake, my boss will fire me.”
- “We had such an awful fight. It will end our relationship.”
- “I haven’t been feeling well lately. I probably have some horrible, incurable disease.”
- “The Mayan calendar ends in 2012. That means we’re all going to die.” (I had to add this one in).
Questions to counter catastrophizing or over-generalizing thoughts:
- How likely is it that my belief is true? How much money would I be willing to bet on it coming true?
- Rather than assuming the worst will happen, what is the best possible outcome of this situation?
- If my friend was thinking in this way, would I tell him or her that he/she is exaggerating? What advice would I give a friend?
Filtering or “Minimizing the Positive” Thoughts
- “I know my boss said she really liked the project, but she also pointed out mistakes. She probably thinks I’m totally incompetent.”
- “The date went really well and we had an amazing “good night” kiss, and he said he wanted to see me again. But he hasn’t called. I’m sure he thinks I am not the right girl for him.”
Questions to counter filtering or minimizing thoughts:
- If I heard my friend talking like this, what would I tell him or her?
- Am I really looking at this situation from a broad perspective? If I was looking at the Mona Lisa, wouldn’t I appreciate it more by looking at it from wider view? (Here’s some imagery that drives the point home, and always makes me laugh. Imagine yourself looking at the Mona Lisa – first from far, taking it all in, then really, really up close – literally, nose to nose with her.). Therefore, if I look at my situation from a wider perspective, how many wonderful, positive things can I see?
Here’s another tip: Create a list of all the positive and negative things about a situation you are thinking about. Try to come up with as many as you can. If you can come up with almost as many positive aspects of a situation as negative, you’ve got your proof on paper that your belief is wrong!
- “If I can’t do it perfectly, then there’s no point in doing it at all.”
- “Winning is the only option.”
- “This deal will make or break me.”
- “Either he’s with me on this or he’s against me.”
- “I can either be a success or a failure – there’s no other option.”
Questions to counter all-or-nothing thoughts:
- Is this really the only way to see this situation? What are some alternative ways to view it?
- Is this thought helpful to me or does it discourage/hinder me?
- If things do not turn out exactly the way I want, what would be the second best outcome?
Emotional Reasoning Thoughts
- “I feel like a total failure.” (Therefore, I am a failure)
- “I feel fat.” (Therefore, I am fat)
- “I feel like everything I say sounds boring. He probably thinks I’m a dull person who lacks personality.”
- “I feel like he’s pulling away from me.” (Therefore, he is pulling away from me)
- “I feel lost, without any hope.” (Therefore, my life is hopeless)
Questions to counter emotional reasoning thoughts:
- What happened the last time I made an assumption based on my feelings, and ended up being wrong?
- Am I looking at this situation clearly, or are my emotions clouding my judgment? If I look at this situation logically and rationally, would my conclusion be the same?
- Would I make a million dollar bet in Vegas based on a feeling? Of course not! So how could my feelings in this case be totally accurate?
- Is this thought making me feel better or worse? If it’s worse, why am I bothering to think in this manner?!
I have one other tip I can offer to counter negative thinking. Two small words that can change your life forever: