Unhelpful Thinking Patterns 5/11 - The Mental Filter
Updated: Aug 4
This is the fifth part of a series looking at common unhelpful thinking habits. These are patterns of thinking that our minds can slip into as a way of coping with challenging situations. You can read more about this in my earlier post here.
The mental filter is a thinking pattern that encourages us to focus on the negatives and filter out the positives in a situation; it is a glass half empty perspective where we dismiss any fulfiling and positive aspects of a situation whilst paying particular attention to any inadequacies and negative aspects. This kind of 'tunnel vision' has been shown to lead to increased levels of anxiety and/depression.
The majority of situations can be seen from more than one perspective and by reframing the way we are seeing a situation we don't change it, but we do change the way we experience - this can make a massive difference to how we feel.
To address this thinking pattern, as with the others, the first (and perhaps most difficult) step is to actually notice that you are doing it. Notice that your attention is drawn to lingering on a few details of the situation rather than seeing it as a whole. Notice the flavour of the details that are coming to mind...how they have a negative bias - this highlights that you are blocking out the more positive parts of the situation.
Our feelings correlate with our thoughts; if we focus on the negative in a situation then we are likely to experience negative emotions along with it.
Some people find it a helpful exercise to write down what they are noticing as a way of processing it. You can ask yourself the following questions to help:
What was the situation?
What thoughts do you notice?
What feelings travel alongside those thoughts?
What aspects of the situation are you discounting?
What’s a more balanced view?
What feelings go with this new balanced view?
The more you can practice processing your thoughts in this way, the easier it will become; but don’t forget to show kindness to yourself – slip ups are inevitable, so be open to forgiving yourself on the occasions that you fall back into the old habit; after all, you don’t want to wake up your inner critic after working so hard on that in my earlier post!