The way you think has an important effect on the way you feel and how you will act. Negative and pessimistic thoughts, such as, “I feel awful” and “I can’t cope” can become a cause of anxiety and depression, and make you feel more unhappy and anxious. Automatic negative thoughts are pessimistic; they seem to come from nowhere and automatically enter one’s mind. It rarely occurs to us that we have a negative thinking bias. This means that when we have the option of thinking of things in a positive or negative way, we lean towards the negative way out of habit. These thoughts may be causing us to feel emotionally down or even falling into depression.
If you feel that life stinks, and you’d like to think more positively about yourself, consider the ways you’d like things to be different, and why isn’t this happening? In other words, it’s unproductive to focus and dwell on your problems. Instead, try constructive thinking. Start to become curious about what might be keeping the problems there.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) suggests that a good way to look at your problems and what is keeping them problems is to conceptualize them. The process is to take all the things that are happening to you (thoughts, feelings, events, and behaviors). Then, instead of leaving them all in a big scrambled mess in your brain, sort them out and connect them, so you can see any connections between an event and a thought, or a thought and a behavior.
Here is an example of mapping out your thoughts:
Event: Receiving a rejection from a potential date you asked out.
Thoughts: “I’ll never have a good relationship and get someone nice to go out with me.”
Thoughts may produce these results:
- Physical sensations: sickness, lethargy
- Feelings: Depression, sadness
- Behavior: Decide not to ask anyone out. Rejection is too painful.
We focus on these thoughts; they create feelings; and we react with specific behaviors. Writing out the event, you thoughts, and what these thoughts mean will help you understand how you react and act, and you can begin changing your thoughts. Using the model above, write in some alternative thoughts and actions to the above example. Can you see when you write out more positive alternatives, that they may be a good model for change?
Now try answering the following questions:
- Does writing these models up give me a better idea of the connection between my thoughts and the way I am feeling?
- Can I understand how my behavior and actions were a result of the way I saw and interpreted things?
- Knowing what I now know, what might I do or how might I think a little differently to get an outcome that is at least marginally better?
- Writing down a map of one’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors is the first step to changing. Give CBT a shot and see if you begin to notice small changes in the way you interpret events.
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