You’re not good enough, why would you even try? I failed that test today, I’m a failure at everything. I can’t find a partner, I’m probably going to be alone forever.
Have you ever gone down this spiral of negative thoughts? Found it hard to redirect your thinking? No matter how your life is going, is your inner critic taking over?
This is not uncommon. Many times we can become overwhelmed with negative self-talk and in some cases, it can get so bad that it can lead to a decrease in motivation and an increase in mental health issues like depression and anxiety.
There are some common traps we fall into when it comes to negative self-talk. The following are a small selection of cognitive distortions (when the thoughts we have move towards the negative):
- All or nothing thinking (you are either a success or a failure)
- Over-generalisations (applying one experience you have had to all other experiences – including future experiences)
- Catastrophising (always looking at the worst case scenario)
“People are not disturbed by things, but by the views they take of them.”― Epictetus
Being able to “reframe our thinking” (a technique used in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy – CBT) is when you actively notice the unhelpful or negative thoughts in your mind and work on turning them into something more useful or positive. It is a key tool in being able to enhance our mental health.
Just like with everything else, reframing our thinking takes time and practice. Our thoughts are something that have been ingrained in our lives for a long time and it is not so easy to change them around. We can’t just flip a switch on our negative thinking, we need to put processes in place that make it easier for us to recognise the negative thoughts and then try to redirect them into more positive and realistic thinking.
What are the benefits?
There are many benefits to being able to reframe our thinking and all of these help us to enhance our mental health. By being able to put this into practice when needed, it can:
- Encourage positive thinking
- Help you be more realistic
- Change your perspectives
- Reduce depression and anxiety
- Boost your self esteem and self worth
So how can we reframe our thinking?
As mentioned before, this is not easy to do. Below are a few examples of how we can reframe our thinking, though just like with all of our other enhancing mental health tools, some will work for different individuals and some will not. You always need to choose things that work for you.
Acknowledge when your negative thoughts arise. By making yourself aware of these thoughts during different situations, you can start to deconstruct where they are coming from. When you do this, put it down on paper and then try to be objective about the situation, take the thought out of it and write down the facts. When we can be objective, we can start to think more rationally about the situation and change our thoughts to more positive/realistic ones, hopefully counteracting the anxiety that may have developed.
Be aware of your emotions. Emotions play a large part in many aspects of our lives. At times, we can let our emotions take over our thinking and this is where we can be pulled into a trap of unhelpful thoughts and feelings. It is important to learn when your emotions are starting to take over and try to prevent that. Again, this is not always easy and takes practice. As mentioned above, when we acknowledge our emotions, we can start to understand where this reaction is coming from, then we can be more alert to its presence and hopefully be able to tailor our emotions to a more logical and rational reaction and thought process.
Be compassionate with yourself. A lot of the time we are able to be supportive to a friend when they are having negative thoughts and feelings, so why can’t we use this practice on ourselves? Ask what you would say to a friend with the same thought and then use that on yourself. Be forgiving and accepting.
Be realistic, not always positive. Many times when we look at reframing our thinking the first thing that people like to do is completely flip the negative into a positive. We assume that trying to put a positive spin on everything is how we move past the negative thoughts. Though a reminder that it is not just about negative thoughts but those that are unhelpful too. When our thoughts are unhelpful, we need to flip the narrative to be more realistic. We can use the same tactics as already mentioned about writing these thoughts down and then writing out a more realistic and objective statement next to it. If you can’t come up with realistic statements right away, leave it until later and come back to it once you have had time to process. It takes time.
Finally, try not to take everything personally.
One key thing however, is to know when to use it as a tool. If it’s not working and if you need more support, seek out professional help, specifically those that use CBT.
Things in our lives are constantly changing, including our thoughts and emotions. We need to be understanding of this and be receptive to those changes when they occur.
For more reading on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, check out these two books by David D. Burns, MD
- Feeling Good – The New Mood Therapy
- Feeling Great – The Revolutionary New Treatment for Depression and Anxiety