Have you found yourself having negative thoughts about yourself on a regular basis? It may not be obvious to you to begin with, but these thoughts may be twisted thinking about a situation which is not actually 100% accurate. Bad things happen, no one can deny that. We all make mistakes. We all misunderstand things sometimes. That's life and it's ok! What is not ok is to have continual negative thoughts about yourself which become automatic, to the point where we take them as totally and 100% true.
Below are 10 things you can do immediately to begin to 'untwist' your thinking and start thinking more helpfully about yourself and/or a situation
1. Identify the Distortions
A distortion is something which you may have exaggerated out of proportion from reality. Try to find at least one distortion for each negative automatic thought you have.
2. Examine the evidence
Write down your negative thoughts and also any distortions you may have made. Then ask yourself “What is the evidence for this thought?” Examine the facts.
Ask yourself “Is it really true that….?”
Instead of assuming that your negative thought is true, examine the actual evidence for it. For example if you feel that you never do anything right, you could list several things you have done successfully.
3. The Double-Standard method
Instead of putting yourself down in a harsh, condemning way, talk to yourself in the same compassionate way you would talk to a friend with a similar problem.
When you have a self-critical thought, ask yourself “Would I say this to a close friend who was very much like me and had a similar problem?”
Learn how to treat ALL people, including yourself, with one standard that’s both helpful and realistic. Give yourself the same encouraging messages you’d give a friend.
4. The Experimental Technique
When you have a negative thought, ask yourself if there is any way to test it to find out if it’s really true. Sometimes an experiment will help you get to the truth about things.
For example, start to break down a task into small steps and see how difficult it actually is to do…
Try to do an experiment to test the validity of your negative thought.
5. Thinking in shades of grey
When you have a negative thought, ask yourself “Am I looking at things in an either-or, black-or-white fashion? Am I thinking of myself as a total success or a total failure? This is all or nothing thinking.
Remind yourself that things are usually somewhere between 0 and 100 percent instead of insisting that they’re all one way or the other. Evaluate yourself on a range of 0 – 100.
For example, when things don’t work out as planned or as well as you’d hoped, think about the experience as a partial success rather than a complete failure.
6. The Survey Method
Ask yourself “Would other people agree that this thought is valid?” You can often perform a survey to find out.
Ask people questions to find out if your thoughts and attitudes are realistic.
For example, if you believe that public speaking anxiety is abnormal and shameful, ask several friends if they ever felt nervous before they gave a talk.
7. Define Terms
When you have a negative thought, ask yourself “How am I defining terms? What do I mean by this? Am I using vague labels that have no meaning?”
For example, if you are calling yourself a “loser” or a “failure”, try to define what you mean by this and you will usually see that your definition is meaningless or that is doesn’t apply to you. If you think you are a fool for doing something, ask whether anyone has ever before done the same thing. If the answer is yes, you must either concede all people are fools or realise that you just did something foolish.
Ask yourself “What is the definition of a …..?”
Usually there will be no such thing.
8. The Semantic Method
The method is simply substituting language that is less colourful and emotionally loaded.
When you feel upset, ask yourself if you’re telling yourself “I should do this” or “I shouldn’t do that”…
Instead substitute a phrase like “it would be nice” or “it would be preferable” in place of “I should”.
If you find you are putting yourself down or blaming yourself for a problem, you are applying a distortion of “Personalisation” or self-blame. The antidote to this is “re-attribution” where you attribute the cause of the problem to something other than your “badness”.
Ask yourself “what other factors may have contributed to this problem?” Develop a list of possibilities.
The aim here is not to deny mistakes you may have made, rather to assess the causes of a problem more objectively. If you did contribute to the situation, accept this and learn from the experience instead of wallowing in self-loathing.
10. Cost-Benefit Analysis
Ask yourself “How will it help me to believe this negative thought and how will it hurt me?”
List the advantages and disadvantages of a feeling (like getting angry) or a thought (like “I always screw up”) or a behaviour pattern (like overeating).
If it turns out the disadvantages are greater, you will find it easier to talk back to the thought. When the disadvantages of an attitude are greater than the advantages, try to revise it with a belief that will be more realistic.
For example, the attitude or belief I want to change: “I must always be perfect”
List the advantages of believing this and the disadvantages of believing this and then rate the % of each one. Once you have done this, see if you can revise your original attitude.
If you are having persistent negative thoughts, looking through this list may seem a little overwhelming in itself. THAT IS FINE! Take one or two points and give them a go to see what happens. If it doesn't work for you, no problem, just give something else a go. So take this list, dip in and out as you need and watch your attitude slowly but surely shift.
Well done :-)