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Unhelpful Thinking Patterns 1/11 - Don't Believe Everything You Think!

Updated: 4 days ago

capturing mental struggle: image of a man seated at a table grappling with unhelpful thoughts

Decoding the Thought Factory: Understanding Our Minds' Creations

Our minds are thought-generating machines, churning out a stream of consciousness, and coming up with thousands of thousands of thoughts a day.

That's a lot of internal chattering!

We can experience thoughts in different ways:

some people experience thoughts as an inner monologue that has an opinion, and which comments to them about everything as they go about their daily business - a bit like having their own personal narrator following them around documenting their lives;

other people experience thoughts as pictures - these images can be positive and inspiring, but sometimes the images can be troubling or scary, especially if they pop into their minds seemingly from nowhere.

Unmasking the Reality of Thoughts

Our minds are very good at making us believe that the thoughts we have are factual representations of reality, but at the end of the day, these thoughts are just something that is created by our minds by electrical impulses firing across our complex neural pathways.

They are not some external truth that is somehow downloaded into our brains, they are simply products of our individual and unique experiences, memories, beliefs and biases.

It is important to learn to see thoughts for what they are - just words or pictures conjured up by our brains.

Some are persistent, some are fleeting, some are positive, some are negative, and some are just downright boring.

A thought only has a meaning if we choose to give it that meaning.

A thought only has power over us if we give it that power.

We can just automatically believe our thoughts, or we can choose to step back from them, and look at our thoughts rather than from our thoughts, allowing us to see them for what they are - mental events, not absolute truths!

Taking Charge: Recognizing Unhelpful Thinking Patterns

We all experience difficult periods in our lives because it's part and parcel of the human condition.

It is impossible to live a life without ever experiencing pain and discomfort on some level, whether that's physical or emotional pain.

Unfortunately, as a way of coping with the distressing situations that we find ourselves in we can slip into thinking patterns that turn out, in the long run, to be unhelpful to us.

They can actually hold us back and make things worse for us - they can cause an additional layer of suffering on top of the original pain.

These patterns are so common that they have been categorised and given names.

Exploring Unhelpful Thinking Patterns

This is the first part in a series that will introduce you to the different patterns and help you start noticing them - because once you can notice them you can start to respond to them in different ways.

Hopefully, this will help you to experience challenging situations from a different, and perhaps more helpful, perspective.

In my next post, I'll be introducing you to the "self-critic"...not that introductions are probably needed as I suspect you may well already be very familiar with your own...we all have that voice in our heads that tells us that we're not good enough, but how can we quieten it and start to be kinder to ourselves?

Check out the other posts in this series here:

Critical Self - the tendency to tell paint ourselves in the least flattering of llights

Black & White Thinking - the tendency to see things in extremes, with no space for nuance...a situation is either a complete success or a total failure

Overgeneralising - the tendency to take one negative event and extrapolate it to everything

The Mental Filter - the tendency to focus only on the negative aspects of a situation whilst filtering out any positives

Mountains & Molehills - the tendency to magnify negatives and minimise positives

Mind Reading - the tendency to assume that we know what other people are thinking, and usually assuming it's something negative

Catastrophising - the tendency to assume the worst possible outcome will happen, even in situations where it's not very likely

Shoulds & Musts - the tendency to to hold ourselves to unrealistic expectations and rules, that invariably set us up for failure

Judgements & Labelling - the tendency to attach negative labels to ourselves and others based on isolated events

Emotional Reasoning - the tendency to believe that our emotions are an accurate representation of the reality of a situation

This isn't an exhaustive list of unhelpful thinking habits, but it's a really good starting point for raising your awareness of your thinking patterns.

The key part of this, and probably the hardest part of it, is to catch yourself when you're engaging in these thinking patterns.

After all, we can't do something about something if we don't know what that something is!

Once we become skilled at noticing and acknowledging that we are falling into these patterns then we can start to consciously step back from them and redirect our attention to more helpful perspectives that serve us, rather than holding us back.

Over time, we can start to see challenging situations, not as threats, but as opportunities; this becomes empowering and helps us to move forwards in a more positive and constructive way.

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