Ten thoughts that are holding you back.

Woman thinking

Unhelpful Negative Thoughts.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Ten thoughts that are holding you back.

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

1. Second place is the first loser.

The idea that if you’re not first place, you’re a loser is known in cognitive behavioral therapy as All-or-Nothing Thinking. Among students, there is a particularly troubling belief that if you don’t get an A, you’re a failure. This type of thinking leads to perfectionism. People tell themselves that they’re not perfect, then they are worthless. The result is that any minor flaw or failure to succeed can lead to overwhelming depression. Believing that one flaw in your appearance or one mistake in life means you are worthless sets up an impossible task. No one is totally perfect, and everyone makes mistakes from time to time.

2. Bad things are always happening to me.

You’re on your way to work when you get a flat tire. You interpret this as a sign that nothing in your life will go the way you want it to. Realistically, if you think about things, you’ve made dozens, hundreds, maybe even thousands of trips to and from work without getting a flat tire. But you leap to the conclusion because something happened once; it will always happen.

Some people believe because they went out on one date with someone they met on an online dating site, and it ended badly, that you can’t meet an honest person through a dating site despite the large number of other people who have met their current partner through that very same site.

The technical term for all of these thinking errors is overgeneralization. Believing that because something undesirable happened to you once, it will continue to happen no matter what you do. I’ve seen people who lost a job either by being laid off or being fired who told themselves because they lost that one job, they would never be able to hold a job again. This kind of thinking leads to deep depressions. Giving up after one failure is guaranteed to keep you from ever reaching your goal.

3. Dirty glasses.

When you’re wearing dirty glasses, the whole world looks filthy. One rude person can convince you that the world as a whole is cruel and insensitive. The technical name for this issue is mental filter. People with this way of thinking cannot see anything positive and see only the negative. Just because you can only see the negative does not mean the world is without its positive. Cleaning your glasses, which includes a change in thinking, means that the positive then life begins to get through.

4. Not counting the points you make.

People with depression fail to give themselves credit for what they accomplish. The only thing that counts in their reckoning is the shots they take that miss. The technical name for this is disqualifying the positive. This kind of unhelpful thought involves only tallying up your shortcomings while minimizing or ignoring completely all of your accomplishments.

People with the habit of disqualifying the positive always find a way to turn their successes and failures. Should they manage to get a job, they dismiss this as pure luck. They’re likely to tell themselves the only reason they got the job was because no one else must’ve applied. They’re able to dismiss the sunshine by telling themselves the storm must be on its way.

In this condition, every positive is dismissed, saying it doesn’t count. While every time and negative experience happens, this only confirms the pessimistic person’s view of themselves, others, and the future.

5. Leaping over the facts.

This unhelpful thought involves moving from limited information directly to a conclusion. One example of this trait is people who believe that they can discern what the other person means even when they don’t say it. The practice is a form of mind-reading in which they attribute a whole different meaning to what the other person said.

Another form of ignoring the facts involves making pessimistic predictions. In this form of fortune-telling, you act as if you had a crystal ball and predict such things as “there’s no use in trying because nothing will ever turn out all right anyway.” Once you learn to predict only negative outcomes, there’s no point in trying.

6. Pole vaulting over mouse droppings.

In this form of unhealthy thinking, people turn the smallest possible problems into catastrophic outcomes. This thinking distortion is perfect for people given to catastrophizing. You forgot to do something at work. Your magic magnifying mind turns this into a whole series of events, from your boss being mad at you to getting fired. Once you develop this habit, you can turn the slightest mistake or error into an insurmountable obstacle.

The reverse of this is certainly possible. You tell yourself that whatever you’ve done can’t possibly be good enough, and therefore none of your accomplishments in life mean anything.

These two tendencies to blow minor problems into major disasters and to turn significant accomplishments into dust bunnies blowing in the wind are sometimes called magnifying and minimizing.

7. Believing everything your emotions tell you.

Feelings, also known as emotions, are messengers that come to tell you something. They don’t always get the story correctly, and sometimes they exaggerate or minimize. Just because something feels scary and dangerous does not mean it is. Emotional reasoning, believing because you have a feeling that it must be true, can lead you down a lot of wrong paths. Focusing only on emotional reasoning is likely to take you in the direction of either chronic depression or debilitating anxiety.

8. Ordering yourself around.

Constantly telling yourself that you should do something, or you must do something

Albert Ellis, one of the founders of CBT therapy, referred to this as “Shoulding on yourself, and musturbation.”  A life full of shoulds and musts is a life that is overwhelming. Telling yourself that you must do things can leave you feeling stressed and angry. Too many things you must do leave you overwhelmed and may ultimately end in apathy and lack of motivation. If you examine your shoulds and musts carefully, you’ll find that you do many things not because you want to but only because you feel you have to. Reducing the shoulds and musts in your life can lead to a much happier and more contented life.

9. Incorrect labeling.

Some labeling, to my way of thinking, can be helpful. I’m left-handed, for example. Being aware of this explains why some things are easy for me to do while other things which were designed for right-handed people are more difficult.

Labeling becomes a problem when one incident is generalized to your core being. One mistake in life doesn’t doom you to be a failure. Losing a tennis match or round of golf doesn’t turn you into a “loser.” Calling yourself these kinds of derogatory names encourages your brain to make those self-statements come true. Things you say to yourself for good or bad frequently come true. Telling yourself, you need to learn about something encourages you to study. Labeling yourself stupid because you don’t yet know how to do something interferes with your ability to ever learn that new skill.

10. Taking everything personally.

Remind yourself that not everything that goes wrong in the world is your fault. While you can influence other people, you generally can’t control their behavior. When someone else doesn’t do what you want them to, you assume that it’s because they don’t like you. This thinking error of taking everything personally results in you taking on responsibility for the universe. Taking things personally leads to guilt, shame, and many mental health problems.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Seven David Joel Miller Books are available now! And more are on the way.

For these and my upcoming books, please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

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Cognitive Behavioral Therapy improves your life.

Woman thinking

Unhelpful Negative Thoughts create depression.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy improves your life.

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

CBT is more than just a therapy.

CBT stands for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. CBT has proven effective in treating severe mental illnesses, including depression and generalized anxiety. In some controlled studies, CBT therapy has been more effective than medication for treating various mental illnesses. CBT is so effective for treating even the most severe depression that it has become the treatment of choice for depression. For now, I’ll focus on how CBT reduces depression and increases subjective feelings of well-being which we sometimes call happiness or contentment. Just remember that cognitive-behavioral therapy can be highly effective for many other problems of living.

CBT can help you create your good life.

CBT goes beyond simply being a professional treatment for severe mental illness. CBT is effective for treating mild or even subclinical illnesses. The principles of CBT are also effective for helping people with low self-esteem and low self-confidence. In addition, cognitive-behavioral therapy principles are helpful in treating a variety of problems of everyday living, including frustration, guilt, and apathy. While CBT is a theory used by counselors and therapists, many people have been helped simply by reading books and hopefully blog posts that explain the principles of cognitive-behavioral therapy.

The origins of CBT.

CBT began in the late 1950s and early 1960s, though its roots go all the way back to the ancient Greeks. Before CBT, therapy was primarily divided into two distinct camps. Traditional Freudian psychoanalysis was long, involved, expensive, and focused mainly on exploring unconscious drives.

The other major therapeutic camp is the behavioral scientists, who believe that it was possible to shape behavior by reward and punishment. In a strictly behavioral model, the role of what you’re thinking is disregarded as either unknowable or irrelevant. While the stick and the carrot are still popular with some bosses and some educators, we have learned that human behavior sometimes defies the effects of rewards and punishment.

Today over three hundred different therapy theories have been described. Most are either focused on feelings, thoughts, or behaviors. CBT and related counseling theories have become the treatment of choice for depression and are helpful for many other problems.

What are the primary components of CBT therapy?

Cognitive-behavioral therapy focuses on the relationships between your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. By examining your thoughts, you can learn to alter your feelings and your behavior. Once you know the basic principles of CBT, you will also find that a change in behavior can change feelings and, therefore, your thoughts about the situation. By two different routes, changes in thinking can result in changes in feelings. By following this thinking, your feelings are no longer controlled by outside influences. Now you can choose how you wish to feel about various situations.

How do thoughts play a role in your mental health?

Your cognitions are made up largely of your thoughts and beliefs and your perceptions. Your thoughts create your moods. This process happens very rapidly and goes almost unnoticed. For example, when most people are angry, they believe that someone or something externally made them angry. But when we study the phenomenon of anger more closely, we find that what you believe about what that other person did causes you to become angry. I’ve written more about this connection in some blog posts about anger and anger management.

Don’t fall into the trap of assuming just because you think something it must be true. Not everything you think is true. If you’ve ever seen something on the ground ahead of you, gone to pick it up, and then discovered that it wasn’t what you thought it was, you’ve experienced an example of how thoughts can appear very real even when they are just mistaken beliefs.

There’s also a particular connection between thoughts and the chemistry in your brain. Because of the prevalence of the use of some psychiatric medicines, some people have come to believe that depression is the result of a shortage of certain neurotransmitters in the brain. As we’ve learned more about brain chemistry, we come to find that thoughts are moved in the brain from one neuron to another chemically. Simply having more depressing thoughts reduces the prevalence of certain neurotransmitters, while more happy thoughts increase the prevalence of those neurotransmitters.

Don’t misunderstand. CBT does not propose to change the brain simply by thinking happy thoughts. In addition to a handful of prominent thoughts in your brain at any one moment, there are a host of other automatic thoughts taking place in the background. Humans are cognitive misers. We don’t think out each movement of our hands before we reach for a cup of coffee. The same thing happens when it comes to thoughts about life events. People get into the habit of automatic thoughts, which results in them interpreting life events as either positive or negative. CBT therapy seeks to find those recurring “unhelpful thoughts” and teach you to reevaluate them and dispute those that are not helpful.

People with depression have characteristic patterns of thinking.

Depression in all its various shades and flavors is caused by patterns of pervasive negativity. In general, pessimists are more likely to be depressed, while optimists are more likely to be content with their life. We used to think that personality was pretty well fixed at birth. You were born either a pessimist or an optimist. Research across the lifespan has shown that personality does change, usually at a slow rate, but there are things that you can do to become more optimistic. We can debate whether the pessimist or the optimist sees the world more realistically, but what happens is that the optimist is happier and often more successful.

The negative thoughts which create and maintain depression are often distorted, inaccurate, and unrealistic. Unfortunately, depressed people rarely think to challenge these negative, unhelpful thoughts. Most negative thoughts are distorted, inaccurate, and unrealistic.

So, what can you do if your brain continues to replay negative, unhelpful thoughts?

The first step in the process of defeating depression, anxiety, and other life problems is learning to recognize when you have slipped into a pattern of negative, unhelpful thoughts and then, having recognized them begin to dispute those thoughts.

In some future posts, I want to walk you through the steps of recognizing and disputing unhelpful beliefs, improving your optimism and your outlook on life, and creating the happy, contented, well-functioning life we all deserve.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Seven David Joel Miller Books are available now! And more are on the way.

For these and my upcoming books, please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

For videos, see: Counselorssoapbox YouTube Video Channel