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Changing the Course of Automatic Thoughts

I am releasing an upcoming audio series (for members) focusing on the mental aspects of body composition. I anticipated it being around two hours, but it is turning into quite an epic recording. I took additional time to record a bonus on cognitive behavior and its relation to body composition.

Cognitive Distortions

This post previews one of the most important areas which is learning to identify, and hopefully alter, your negative automatic thoughts. Below is a list (the basis of which originated from David D. Burns) of the top 10 mental distortions we experience throughout our daily lives. Take a moment to read through them. You might be surprised how they apply, not only to your body composition but to your life in general.

1. All-or-Nothing Thinking
The Problem: It’s pretty self explanatory, but incredibly powerful. When you imagine one person not liking you, it can turn into everyone. If you cheat with one meal, the whole day or week can become a bust. This doesn’t only apply to actions, it applies to thoughts as well.

Albert Ellis first presented the idea of irrational beliefs. Here are some examples:

I cannot be happy unless everyone likes me.
If I do what is expected of me, my life will be wonderful.
Bad things don’t happen to good people.
Good things don’t happen to bad people.
In the end, bad people will always get punished.
If I am intelligent (or work hard), I will be successful.

The Solution: While it may not be easy to fight these thoughts and perhaps we can’t help our initial feelings and reactions, we have to change how we consciously react in our all-or-nothing behavior.

2. Overgeneralization
The Problem: One negative can turn into everything being negative. This is different from all-or-nothing thinking because it doesn’t have to relate to the same negative thoughts or actions. For example, if you get into a car accident, you automatically assume your diet is shot for the rest of the day. If you are creative and prone to catastrophic thinking, you can convince yourself that your relationship is going to fall apart; you get extra bonus points if you think the person you hit is going to sue you and you’ll end up homeless.

The Solution: When bad events take place, remind yourself it is one bad event. This one event does not have to shape the entire course of your life. And most importantly, it doesn’t have to end negatively.

3. Mental Filter
The Problem: You focus and dwell on one thing and one thing only. It can be weight loss, your family, your job, etc. Whatever it is, nothing seems more devastating than this one “thing.” It rules your life and steals your happiness thunder.

The Solution: Sometimes you have to forcefully and consciously change your thoughts as they happen. Work on focusing on other things—your goals and dreams. Keep a list of ideas of things to think about when you find yourself getting caught up in yourself.

4. Disqualifying the Positive
The Problem: Good things couldn’t possibly happen to you, and even if they do, you brush them off with negative thoughts or by focusing on potential or conjured negatives. If you receive a compliment from your boss, you think, “He praises Craig more.” If you lose two pounds, you think, “Greeeat, two pounds. 59 more to go, and those were mostly water anyway. Whoo f**king hoo.”

The Solution: No matter how small, celebrate your successes. If negative thoughts creep in, bounce back with positive ones.

5. Jumping to Conclusions
The Problem: You don’t know what the outcome is going to be, but you are already preparing for the worst. There are two aspects of this: fortune telling and mind reading. If you believe it will happen, then it will. And it always seems like that self-fulfilling prophecy mostly applies to negative things.

So, you can see all of the future and read everyone’s minds, and you know that eventually you are going to be sad, lonely, and on the verge of killing yourself—before you even start something.

The Solution: If you must fortune tell or mind read, try to make it positive or, at the very least, realistic. Also, try to keep in mind that as scary of a thought as it is, we have no way of knowing what tomorrow holds. All we can do is try to plan for it the best we can with logical decisions and positivity.

6. Magnification or Minimizing
The Problem: Making something a little worse are we? Someone says, “Are you okay? You don’t look like you feel well,” and you rework this in your head as if they said, “OMG, are you dying? You look like you are dying and are quite ugly! Run to the hospital now, run!”

The Solution: People don’t think about you as much as you do. In some ways, you are practicing narcissistic behavior when you do this and you need to realize that the world, both positively and negatively, doesn’t revolve around you. Start taking events or what people say (compliments or criticisms) for exactly what they are, instead of what you make them in your mind.

7. Emotional Reasoning
The Problem: You think the presence of your negative thoughts means that they must be true. Have you ever looked at a sharp object like a kitchen knife and imagined it flying out of control and hurting someone? Have you followed that thought with, “Why did I just think that? I must be a horrible person to think something like that!?” You aren’t, and in fact you are so normal that we must all be “horrible” people. The same applies to dieting when you think the following thoughts. “Today I just want to cheat! Omg, why do I think that, why can’t I be strong like everyone else? Why am I the only one who has these problems? I must be weak. I will never be able to do this.”

The Solution: First, you need to accept the fact that everyone does these things, even the really weird ones. Nothing is wrong with you; our minds are constantly working and there are a lot of hours to fill in a day. Second, you need to derail these thoughts when you notice them happening. Use positive talk to replace them whenever you can.

8. Should Statements
The Problem: Thoughts like these…

“They should understand.”

“I should be able to do this.”

“They should be a better friend to me.”

The Solution: The only things that exist on the other side of “should” statements are guilt and anger toward yourself or others. Instead, focus on the reality of what you did and have done.

9. Labeling/Mislabeling
The Problem: You must be a bad person because you did “x.” You must be crazy. You must be untrustworthy. They must be a bad person. They must be irrational. They are a liar. Feeling the need to label everything and then set it aside makes it pretty hard to work toward change, doesn’t it?

The Solution: Avoid making blanket statements, even in jest, about your personal character or the character of others. Contrary to popular belief, there aren’t as many “bad” people in the world as you may think. You certainly don’t have to be one of them. Try to mentally move away from using labels and more toward identification of individual situations.

10. Personalization

The Problem: Everything is ruined because of you. No one in your family gets along, because of you. If it wasn’t for you, things would be better for other people. If only you worked harder and did things better, everyone else would be happier.

The Solution: This is usually tied in with people pleasing. I believe we should care about people, but it should be in the right ways. The best way to treat people well is to treat yourself well. Because in the end, everyone’s journey is their own to do with what they will. Focus on your journey.

Take Home Point

This takes work. Being happy takes work. Sure there are the lucky few who live in a state of ignorant bliss, but most of us spend our time searching for how to not feel fear, how to not live in fear, or how to be better than we think we are. Take time today to really think about the messages you are sending yourself, and see if you can’t rework your thoughts to promote a more constructive and positive outcome.

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