Patterns of Unhelpful Thinking (for beginners)

Most of us would be institutionalised if we said the things we say to ourselves to someone else. Developing awareness of where our mind is wandering is integral to us stopping such unhelpful self-chatter in its tracks. Believe it or not, becoming conscious of our thoughts is the first step necessary to creating a life we’re much happier living.

If we sow a thought, we reap an action. If we sow an action, we reap a habit.

If we sow a habit, we reap a character. If we sow a character, we reap a destiny.

― Ralph Waldo Emerson

These are the most common unhelpful thought patterns that we’re all victim of:

1) PREDICTING THE FUTURE: It is common for us to spend much of our time thinking about the future and predicting what could go wrong. The ironic thing is most of the predictions we've made don't actually happen, so we've wasted a lot of time and energy being worried and upset about them.

Example: You assume you’ll perform poorly at a job interview, or that someone will reject you before you’ve even asked them out on a date!

2) MIND READING: This is when we assume that we know what other people are thinking (usually about us) without any real evidence to suggest it's true. We can also make assumptions about why someone said something or behaved in a certain way and be quick to conclude that it's to do with us. How funny we should make ourselves the centre of other people’s universe!

Example: ‘My boss thinks I'm stupid!' (Has she said this out loud? How do you know it to be true?) Or, 'My work colleague is ignoring me.' (Maybe he just has other things on his mind, and in fact could it be it’s nothing to do with you?!)

3) CATASTROPHISING: This is when we blow things completely out of proportion and view the situation as a catastrophe even though the problem is, when we’re honest and put it in perspective, actually quite small.

Example: Assuming someone hates you because they didn’t reply to your text but you’ve seen the two blue ticks. Or, you expect to lose your job because of a mistake.

4) FOCUSSING ON THE NEGATIVES: Similar to most of the above, we commonly develop 'tunnel vision' where we focus solely on the negative aspects of situations without considering the positive. Sometimes the whole picture we envisage can be clouded by a single negative detail. For some reason, we believe the negative is the most realistic way of seeing something. But if most of the things we worry about are negative and don’t actually happen, isn’t the most realistic thing to happen the positive thing you’re not letting yourself imagine?!

Example: Focusing on the one bit of negative feedback rather than the twenty lovely things someone’s said.

5) OVER-GENERALISING: Based on one experience in the past, you make the assumption that similar situations will always follow a similar pattern in the future. A sense of helplessness often accompanies such over-generalisations.

Example: One ex-partner cheated on you, you believe that ‘All men/women are cheats!’

6) IMAGINING THE WORST-CASE SCENARIO: We predict the worst-case scenario is going to happen, despite the fact that we may have been successful in this area in the past.

Example: You're asked to give a presentation to a group of people, and you think 'I'm going to completely mess this up' even though you've given many successful presentations in the past.

7) LABELLING: This is when we 'label' ourselves based on our behaviour in specific situations. We define ourselves by one specific behaviour (usually something negative) and fail to consider other positive characteristics and actions. What labels do you currently define yourself by and how are they complimenting your life?

Example: 'I'm an anxious person' even though this can’t always the case, or 'I'm not good enough' because you failed at something, even though there are loads of other things you have to offer. Besides, ‘failing’ in my book isn’t ever really failing. It’s learning!