Why you should be picky with your thoughts

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Is positive thinking important? Well if I put it like this; we humans have anywhere from 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts per day. That is a lot of thoughts people and many of us don’t even pay attention to what kind of thoughts we allow passing through and yes I would like to emphasize the word ‘allow’ here. So let me ask you this; are you aware of your own thought patterns? If you answered ‘No’ don’t worry most people aren’t. I wasn’t paying attention to my own either up until a few years ago and here is what I have learned: The quality of your thoughts have a direct impact on how you feel and thus your happiness. Why? Let’s state a fact;

Your thoughts affect your emotions. Your emotions affect your decisions. Your decisions affect your life. Period.

If you are picky about what you wear, about what you eat, who you date etc. then you should also be picky about your thoughts and I’m now going to tell you why.

I am obviously a big believer in positive thinking however, I totally get it that for some “positive thinking talk” may sound a bit too kumbaya so for that purpose let’s throw in some science. That your thoughts affect how you feel is actually scientifically proven. Brain research shows that every conscious thought we have is recorded on our internal hard drive known as the cerebral cortex. Each thought scratches the surface much like an Etch-A-Sketch. When we have the same thought again, the line of the original thought is deepened, causing what’s called a memory trace. With each repetition the trace goes deeper and deeper, forming and embedding a pattern of thought. When an emotion is tied to this thought pattern, the memory trace grows exponentially stronger.

However, do we really need scientific studies or research to prove that positive thinking will improve your life and overall well-being? I think not. It is pretty simple and logical why optimists do better than pessimists and here it goes;

Optimists are problem solvers who try to improve the situation while when you are being pessimistic/negative you get stuck and dwell on the problem which basically takes you nowhere. And we all know this is true.

Let us state another fact which we are not always aware of; The thought always comes before the feeling Always. Think about it and start paying attention to it. It is never the emotion that comes first and then the thought, however because we are feeling something we have a tendency to believe it is true, that what we are feeling is the reality. And if you start paying attention to your thoughts more closely especially how you react in certain situations you will notice that when a “bad” feeling arise it is always the direct result of your thoughts. The beauty here is that we can control and change our thought patterns. It is not easy because our thinking is habitual and as they say “old habits die hard”.

So how do you improve the quality of your thoughts and where do you start? As with everything the first step is to become aware and one way to do that is to start identifying your error thinking patterns (and yes people it is called “error” for a reason). In psychology and specifically in the Cognitive Behavior Therapy approach we learn about certain types of thoughts that are called “cognitive distortions”-A term that means that the way you are thinking about something doesn’t necessarily match up with the reality of what’s going on.
Here are ten of the most common thought errors you might have experienced:

1. Mental Filtering
Mental filtering is when we focus exclusively on the most negative and upsetting features of a situation, filtering out all of the most positive aspects.

2. Disqualifying the Positive
Disqualifying the positive is when we continually discount and dismiss the positive experiences we encounter, by deciding they are unimportant or ‘don’t count’.

3. ‘All or Nothing’ Thinking
‘All or nothing’ thinking is when we see things purely in ‘black or white’. These types of thoughts are characterized by terms such as or ‘every’, ‘always’, or ‘never’.  Everything is seen as good or bad or a success or failure. It is generally the negative perspective that is endorsed, discounting all the shades of gray that lie in between the two focused on choices.

4. Overgeneralization
Thinking in an over-generalizing way means we will often see a single unpleasant incident or event as evidence of everything being awful and negative, and a sign that now everything will go wrong.

5. Jumping to Conclusions
An individual who ‘jumps to conclusions’ will often make a negative interpretation or prediction even though there is no evidence to support their conclusion. This type of thinking is often made when thinking about how others feel towards us. It can show up as either ‘mind reading’ (assuming the thoughts and intentions of others) or ‘fortune-telling’ (anticipating the worse ad taking it as fact).

6. Magnifying or Minimizing (also referred to as “Catastrophization”)
Thinking in a magnifying or minimizing manner is when we exaggerate the importance of negative events and minimize or downplay the importance of positive events. In depressed individuals, it is often the positive characteristics of other people that are exaggerated and the negatives that are understated (and then when thinking of oneself, this is reversed). When we think catastrophically we are unable to see any other outcome other than the worse one, however, unlikely this result may turn out to be.

7.  Personalization
A person engaging in personalization will automatically assume responsibility and blame for negative events that are not under their control. This is also called ‘the mother of guilt’ because of the feelings of guilt, shame, and inadequacy it leads to.

8. Shoulds and Oughts
Individuals thinking in ‘shoulds’, ‘oughts; or ‘musts’ have a certain view of how they and others ‘should’ and ‘ought’ to be. These rigid views or rules can generate feels of anger, frustration, resentment, disappointment and guilt if not followed.

9. Emotional Reasoning
Emotional reasoning is when we assume feelings reflect the fact, regardless of the evidence. The idea here is “I feel it; therefore, it must be true”.  Such thinking can lead to self-fulfilling prophecies whereby our thoughts can end up eliciting the very behavior we predicted, just because we changed our behavior in accordance with that thought.

10. Labelling
Labelling is an extreme form of ‘all or nothing’ thinking and overgeneralization.  Rather than describing a specific behavior, an individual instead assigns a negative and highly emotive label to themselves or others that leave no room for change.

Which of these are you guilty of? Mine were/are definitely number 6 and 9 hmm maybe even number 1. Just by becoming aware of these negative thought errors will help you in realizing that your negative thoughts are not necessarily the truth or a reality but the reality that you have chosen. Change your thoughts and so will your perspective (to a certain extent of course).

Positive thinking is not magic and you can’t just depend on positive thinking then wait for good things to happen however your positive thinking will affect the actions you take and the overall life attitude you choose to undertake.

To change negative thinking patterns and adopt a more positive mindset takes work and it is something you have to practice on every goddamn day. It is exactly like going to the gym or brushing your teeth. But take my word on this; it is worth it and it will improve the quality of your life.

Xoxo
Em