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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For videos, see: Counselorssoapbox YouTube Video Channel

Are unhelpful thoughts causing you problems?

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

Woman thinking

Unhelpful Negative Thoughts.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

What are unhelpful thoughts?

Unhelpful thoughts are part of some people’s self-talk. What you tell yourself often enough becomes automatic thoughts. Becoming aware of the negative messages you’re giving your brain and challenging those messages is a part of the process of change that we call Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

In the early days of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT,) researchers and theoreticians noticed a connection between the kind of automatic thoughts or self-talk that some people engaged in and the development of severe mental illnesses, particularly depression and anxiety. Originally these kinds of thoughts were described as irrational thoughts or dysfunctional thoughts. Those labels seem to me to be judgmental. Recently I’ve noticed therapists using the term unhelpful thoughts, and I believe that’s a much better way to describe these automatic thoughts.

Most of these unhelpful thoughts are the result of one or more informal logical fallacies. When you think unhelpful thoughts, they seem true to you, but when an outside observer looks at the evidence, these unhelpful thoughts don’t hold up. These categories of unhelpful thoughts may be called by different names, but here is my version.

All-or-nothing thinking is unhelpful.

This unhelpful thought involves looking at things in black-or-white or yes-or-no categories. For the person with all-or-nothing thinking, there is no middle ground. They tell themselves, “I must be perfect, or I’m a failure.” This type of thinking has led to an increase in depression and even suicide attempts at some of the prestigious colleges where students fall into the trap of believing there only two grades and A or a Not-A. This is a form of perfectionism in which one flaw makes the person worthless. While striving for self-improvement is worthwhile, believing that you must be perfect or you’re no good, will undermine your self-esteem and lead to depression.

Overgeneralization from a negative experience is an unhelpful thought.

This unhelpful thought involves the belief that one negative experience predicts the future. The person tells themselves, “I didn’t get hired for this job. I’ll never get any job.” If you get turned down for a date, you tell yourself no one will ever like me, and I will be alone the left rest of my life.

Having a negative mental filter creates unhelpful thoughts.

Someone with a negative mental filter never sees their accomplishments but only their mistakes. The student who gets one question wrong on a test believes that that means they’re stupid despite the overwhelming number of correct answers.

A person with a negative mental filter fails to get a promotion or is turned down for a raise, and they believe that means they are no good at their jobs and are at risk of being fired.

Discounting the positive is a common unhelpful thought.

Someone with this unhelpful thought might apply for a job and get hired, but rather than believing this is because they were a good candidate, they will tell themselves they only got hired because nobody better applied. No matter how many successes this person has; they only remember their failures and expect to fail the next time they attempt something.

Mind reading is a very unhelpful way of thinking.

People who practice mind-reading believe that when someone doesn’t return a phone call, this means that that person hates them. The mind reader is continually telling themselves that something terrible is about to happen. Since they always predict the worst, they see the worst in every person and situation they encounter. Expecting your partner to be a mind reader is an unhelpful thought that comes up often in couples counseling.

Jumping to dire conclusions is an unhelpful thought.

The jumping to conclusions unhelpful thought takes you from the weather report saying it will rain tomorrow to canceling your camping trip because you’re sure there’s likely to be flooding and lightning might strike your camp.

People with this unhelpful thought process always expect the worst possible outcome. It won’t invest in a retirement account because the stock market might crash. They don’t want to go on a vacation because the plane might crash.

Emotional reasoning will mislead you.

Feelings can be a useful source of information, but not everything you feel is real. Just because something scares you does not mean it is dangerous. Feeling embarrassed about something you did doesn’t mean everyone else noticed and is judging you. Question whether your feelings are providing you accurate information, or are you assuming that because you feel something that makes it accurate?

Trying to live by a long list of absolute rules is unhelpful.

Holding yourself to a strict list of what you should and shouldn’t do and beating yourself up if you break any of the rules is a very unhelpful way of thinking. “I should never have said anything to her. I’m such an idiot.” Trying to live by an arbitrary list of “should’s” and “musts” can result in a lot of emotional problems.

Negative self-labeling is unhelpful.

If you make a mistake or your performance is less than you would like it to be, don’t call yourself stupid or clumsy. Telling yourself, you’re a failure, creates failure.

Trying to control things that are not in your control is unhelpful.

If you’re one of those people, who believes that everything that goes wrong is your fault, you have developed a very unhelpful way of thinking. Don’t try to control or protect other people by anticipating what could go wrong in their lives. You can plan, but don’t fall into the trap of thinking that your planning and worrying will somehow make everything come out the way you want it to.

What should you do if your life is full of unhelpful thoughts?

If you find that you fall into frequent use of these unhelpful thoughts, begin to challenge those anxiety-producing thoughts. Ask yourself what the evidence is that this thought is true. Get a second opinion from a friend. You may find self-help books based on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, especially helpful. Consider working with the counselor or therapist. A good coach can help improve an athlete’s performance, and a good counselor can help you overcome the problem of frequent unhelpful thoughts.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Seven David Joel Miller Books are available now!

My newest book is now available. It was my opportunity to try on a new genre. I’ve been working on this book for several years, but now seem like the right time to publish it.

Story Bureau.

Story Bureau is a thrilling Dystopian Post-Apocalyptic adventure in the Surviving the Apocalypse series.

Baldwin struggles to survive life in a post-apocalyptic world where the government controls everything.

As society collapses and his family gets plunged into poverty, Baldwin takes a job in the capital city, working for a government agency called the Story Bureau. He discovers the Story Bureau is not a benign news outlet but a sinister government plot to manipulate society.

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Dark Family Secrets: Doris wants to get her life back, but small-town prejudice could shatter her dreams.

Casino Robbery Arthur Mitchell escapes the trauma of watching his girlfriend die. But the killers know he’s a witness and want him dead.

Planned Accidents  The second Arthur Mitchell and Plutus mystery.

Letters from the Dead: The third in the Arthur Mitchell mystery series.

What would you do if you found a letter to a detective describing a crime and you knew the writer and detective were dead, and you could be next?

Sasquatch. Three things about us, you should know. One, we have seen the past. Two, we’re trapped there. Three, I don’t know if we’ll ever get back to our own time.

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