Does thought stopping work?

By David Joel Miller.

What is thought stopping and does it work?

Thought Stopping.

Thought Stopping.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Thought stopping is a common cognitive behavioral therapy technique. Some people, clients, and counselors alike report that thought stopping can be very helpful for reducing or avoiding rumination, catastrophizing, and other unwanted thoughts. Learning to stop unwanted thoughts can be helpful for reducing depression, anxiety and recurrent thoughts of substance use. Others have reported that thought stopping was unhelpful and did not work. Why does thought stopping work for some people and not others?

Not thinking about something does not work.

There’s a big difference between trying not to think about something and getting your mind to stop going over and over the thought once you have it. The human brain doesn’t work well at preventing thoughts. Setting up a list of things to “not think about” does not prevent those thoughts from reentering your mind. That no-think list will keep your mind occupied looking for the very thoughts are trying to avoid.

If you have had a history of negative thoughts, negative self-talk, or the kind of recurrent negative thinking that damages your self-esteem, you will find the thoughts recur whether you want them to or not. People in drug and alcohol recovery find that their default thought, no matter what happens, is likely to be I need or want a drink. Maybe I could do a little drug just this one time.

In a past post, I wrote about “don’t think about elephants.” What people find is that the effort to “not think about” anything keeps that thought right at the edge of consciousness waiting for its chance to pop back into your current thinking. If you’re not sure about this, sit for a while and don’t think about something. You will find that every time you tell yourself to not think about it, the thought miraculously enters your mind.

Researchers have used both “white bears” and “red Volkswagen’s” in various combinations to study the effects of thought stopping. The studies are enlightening, but make it hard to set firm rules for when and how to use thought stopping. If you’re someone who has recurrent, unwanted thoughts, you need to practice and probably work with a professional to become proficient in using thought stopping to make your life more manageable. There are some other techniques you can learn that are probably more effective than thought stopping.

Thought stopping is most effective when used briefly in crisis situations. Telling yourself not to reach for that drink or drug can help in the moment. When your mind tries to take into a dangerous neighborhood telling it to “knock that off” may keep you out of trouble for the moment, but it won’t last for very long if you don’t change some of the things.

Suppressing unwanted thoughts requires cognitive effort. When you put a lot of effort into something, you get tired. Humans are cognitive misers and customarily revert to patterns that don’t require a lot of effort. Letting your guard down against unwanted thoughts can happen quite quickly.

Your mood impacts the effort needed to suppress unwanted thoughts. When you are depressed, it is harder to stop negative, painful thoughts. Being in a happy, optimistic mood makes it easier to suppress negative thoughts.

You need to remember some things and forget others.

Forgetting important things can be very frustrating. It can be equally upsetting if you find you can’t forget the painful past. Unwanted and intrusive memories are characteristic of several mental illnesses. People who have been victims of trauma, those with PTSD especially, wish they could forget. There are a lot of materials available to help people improve memory, but far fewer to help people forget the painful, unhelpful memories. Change your thinking techniques are one of those few tools that may be helpful in preventing unhelpful thoughts from taking over your consciousness.

Researchers have found that remembering feelings from the past can influence how we feel in the present. The more you think about an unhappy memory, the more depressed or anxious you may become right now. So, if telling yourself not to think about your ex just brings the sadness you experienced during the breakup into your mind, how do you prevent spending all your time thinking about the things you wish had not happened. Thought changing methods may reduce the amount of time you spend caught in the downward spiral of unhelpful thinking.

Euphoric recall – thoughts that need to be stopped.

Some thoughts that seem positive at first glance turn out to be highly inaccurate and unhelpful. It’s common in addiction for people to suddenly experience thoughts of the good times they had when drinking or using. Remember that time you partied? What’s hard to remember is that you got into a fight at the party, took off in a hurry, maybe got arrested for driving under the influence. The same thing happens when dysfunctional relationships end. You tend to remember the good times in the beginning and not the bad events later.

What is thought stopping?

Thought stopping is the process of monitoring your thinking, detecting unhelpful or unwanted thoughts and getting your mind off that thought and back onto something more helpful. It’s important to take active steps to prevent unwanted, intrusive thoughts from taking over control of your mind.

One way of thinking about thought stopping is a process of transforming automatic unhelpful thoughts into cues to activate your thought stopping and thought transforming mental systems.

Thought stopping is a skill that needs to be learned and practiced.

“Recent research indicates that people control unwanted memories by stopping memory retrieval, using mechanisms similar to those used to stop reflexive motor responses” (Anderson, M., Levy, B., 2009.) The article goes on to say that the control of unwanted thoughts and memories happens in the lateral prefrontal cortex, the executive function of the brain. If your brain has an effective CEO, he can control the activity in the hippocampus, the part of the brain that regulates storage and retention of memories. Learning what to remember and what to forget is a skill you can develop.

As people grow and develop, they could become better at regulating which memories are prioritized for storage in which are slated for deletion. We would expect it to be harder for young people to forget the painful memories. Life events that alter your brain chemistry, trauma, depression, anxiety, or a substance use disorder appear to reduce your control over memory storage and retrieval. For example, people who are addicted to methamphetamine had “lower grey matter intensity in the brain region associated with performance” on both thought stopping and the ability to look at past events in another way, a skill called reappraisal or reframing (Tang, D., Schmeichel, B., 2014)

Thought stopping shouldn’t be the only tool in your self-help toolbox.

So, not thinking about things often does not work. You can use thought stopping to interrupt the flow of an unhelpful thought. Anyone who’s tried to do mindfulness or meditation knows that as soon as you empty the mind, a mob of thoughts tries to reoccupy that emptiness. The more you practice, the better you can get at keeping unwelcome thoughts out of your head. In the short run, you may need some mental protection from other skills.

Practice becoming more optimistic. Learned to fill your mind with positive thoughts that can guard the space against the return of unhelpful thoughts. Distracting techniques, filling your mind with other helpful thoughts, appears to make thought stopping more effective.

Are there times you shouldn’t use thought stopping?

Turns out that there are times when thought stopping is not helpful. People have experienced a loss in their life, the death of a loved one, may find that simply trying not to think about that death leaves unresolved grief which they may need to deal with later. While going on with life may work temporarily, eventually you need to come to terms with the loss and find a way to make meaning out of that experience.

If you have a problem that needs to be solved, not thinking about it is likely to interfere with solving the problem or dealing with the consequences. Thought stopping is not effective when eventually you will have to solve the problem.

People who were on a diet and tried to simply not think about eating are at increased risk to binge eat when the thoughts of food return (Sarah L. Gaskell et al., 2001.)

Thought stopping is a verbal technique which works best to correct unhelpful self-talk. Thought stopping is less effective when physical objects such as people, places, and things try to the unhelpful thoughts. For those objects, you need to avoid places where you’ll see them. It’s hard to avoid thinking about having another drink when you’re sitting in a bar.

Some additional cautions about thought stopping.

When trying to stop unwanted thoughts, people tend to look around the room. Be careful what you look at, the things you look at while trying to avoid thinking about something, get paired with the original unwanted thoughts. You look around the room and see a particular lamp or picture, the next time you look around the room those objects are likely to bring back the unwanted thoughts.

When doing thought stopping, look at something positive and reinforcing. If you wear a religious symbol, look at that. Twelve-step groups often have quotes from the recovery literature and helpful sayings on the walls so that people who are trying to avoid thinking about their issues find it easier to shift from unwanted thoughts to helpful thoughts.

If you do have recurrences of unhelpful thoughts, don’t beat yourself up and create those thoughts being triggers for negative self-talk. Dismiss the unwanted thoughts as quickly as possible and shift your attention to helpful thoughts.

My take on thought stopping?

I think of thought stopping like being in the swimming pool and trying to hold that water polo ball under the surface. The harder you try to hold it under the more it pops back. Eventually, you get too tired to keep holding it down. What you need to do with that ball of unwanted thoughts is toss it out of the pool of your life, or get out of the pool and moved to a better environment.

In an upcoming post, I want to walk you through some techniques that should be more effective at helping you get rid of those unhelpful thoughts on a long-term basis than simply trying to “not think about it.”

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

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.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

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

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

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

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Is catastrophizing ruining your life?

By David Joel Miller.

What is catastrophizing?

Catastrophizing

Catastrophizing.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Catastrophizing is a way of looking at life, always searching for the “worst case” possibilities. In recovery circles, this can be described as having a “magical magnify mind.” There are times when considering the worst possible alternative can protect you from bad life outcomes, other times it can make you miserable. Adopting catastrophizing as your default way of thinking has been tied to pessimism and many mental illnesses.

Wikipedia defines catastrophizing as “Giving greater weight to the worst possible outcome, however unlikely, or experiencing a situation as unbearable or impossible when it is just uncomfortable.”

Catastrophizing and mental health.

Ellis (1962) created the term ‘‘catastrophizing’’ to describe a tendency to magnify a perceived threat and overestimate the seriousness of its potential consequences.

Beck in his work on cognitive behavioral therapy created a list of “cognitive distortions,” which are factors in creating and maintaining some mental illnesses. Recently cognitive therapists, have begun referring to these thinking patterns as “unhelpful thoughts.”

One of these unhelpful thoughts is magnification, a cognitive process in which people who are depressed create exaggerated beliefs which bias their thinking in a negative direction (Beck 1963, 1964.)

When you don’t know what causes bad events, the consequences are magnified. Catastrophizing is an unhelpful way some people use to try to find the causes of bad events in their life and to try to prevent future unpleasant consequences.

Other definitions of catastrophizing.

Catastrophizing involves focusing on the difficulty and negative aspects of a stressor. Catastrophizing is envisaging the worst results of a negative event.

Catastrophizing is an automatic “what if” questioning style, causing an individual to iterate about a particular problem and perceive possible outcomes as threatening (Kendall & Ingram, 1987; Vasey & Borkovec, 1992).

Mental illnesses are connected to catastrophizing.

Many of the things we call mental illnesses lie on a continuum from mild to severe. It’s quite common for people with one mental illness to also show symptoms of other mental illnesses. How a specific mental illness will affect you is also the result of the interaction between that illness and you. Your life experiences, your genetics, your personality, and how you go about thinking about the world, all play roles in your risk for having a particular mental illness and your path towards recovery from that illness. Below is a brief review of some the research about the connections between catastrophizing and mental illnesses.

Chronic pain is made worse by Catastrophizing.

Many studies have found a connection between catastrophizing and disability from chronic pain. Catastrophic thinking in the pain field was defined as ‘‘an exaggerated negative orientation toward pain stimuli and pain experience’’ (Spevak and Buckenmaier 2011.) Focusing on your pain seems to magnify it. Catastrophizing about your pain, imagining all the possible connections between your pain and serious illness, increases the pain’s impact on your life

Stanford Pain Management Center conducted a pilot program which involved a 2-hour class on pain and pain catastrophizing. The class significantly reduced patients catastrophizing about pain. I have to wonder if more information about mental and physical issues wouldn’t reduce people’s worry and result in significantly less catastrophizing.

The connection between chronic pain and catastrophizing is especially strong in the research on fibromyalgia. “Several factors of pain appraisal contribute to the pain experience. The most outstanding ones are pain catastrophizing, fear of pain, and vigilance to pain. In FM patients, pain catastrophizing has been associated with pain intensity and impairment” (Mart´ınez, S´anchez, Mir´o, Medina, & Lami,2011.)

“Among the most widely researched psychological factors in recent years, pain catastrophizing has shown consistent and robust associations with acute and chronic clinical pain as well as experimental pain responses” (Fillingim.)

Panic disorder is fueled by catastrophizing.

“People with panic disorder misinterpret their physical symptoms as catastrophic and indicative of imminent danger, leading to panic attacks” (Ottaviani and Beck 1987.)

Phobias may be created and maintained by catastrophizing.

The pattern of jumping to the most negative consequences, catastrophizing, is common in social phobia, agoraphobia, and specific phobia. In social phobia, people expect to be judged negatively and are on the alert for clues of rejection. This can result in being socially awkward and creating the social rejection they fear. Agoraphobia, the fear of the marketplace, or the fear of being out in public, is characterized by a fear that something bad will happen and the person will not be able to escape or get help. Specific phobias frequently involve overestimating the chances the thing that scares you will be present or will harm you.

Somatic Symptoms and Related Disorders are connected to catastrophizing.

In the past, this was often called Health Anxiety Disorder. Recently this was reorganized and is now considered a group of disorders. Somatic Symptoms Disorder (300.82) involves a focus on one or two symptoms which the patient comes to believe indicate they have a serious undiagnosed medical illness. Illness Anxiety Disorder (300.7) is a constant preoccupation and worry that you will contract a serious illness. Catastrophic thinking plays a role both in creating and in maintaining all the health-related anxiety disorders. This group of disorders frequently involves intrusive, distressing images of being sick or dying.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder involves catastrophizing.

OCD has two main components, intrusive thoughts, and the need to perform rituals to prevent those imagined consequences. These intrusive thoughts are primarily catastrophic in nature. When you continue to imagine worst-case, dire consequences which can only be prevented by your performing some ritual, it becomes hard to resist the impulses.

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder is connected to catastrophic thinking.

Catastrophic thinking appears to contribute to the creation and worsening of all the trauma and stressor-related disorders. Having experienced a traumatic event, you are more likely to imagine similar events occurring again. Constantly checking your environment for potential danger and then catastrophizing about what you see appears to contribute to the maintenance of PTSD.

Not everyone who experiences a traumatic event develops PTSD. People who habitually practice catastrophic thinking are at increased risk of developing PTSD should they experience a trauma (Bryant, Guthrie, 2005.)

Some studies have reported a connection between catastrophizing and fatigue.

Catastrophizing is often observed in anxiety.

“Chronic worry is known to be a feature associated with most of the anxiety disorders and most specifically with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)” (Brown, Antony, &Barlow,1992).

According to the most recent diagnostic categorization, the cardinal diagnostic feature of GAD is “excessive anxiety and worry (apprehensive expectation) … which the individual finds difficult to control” (APA, 2000, p. 476).

Catastrophizing creates Hopelessness Depression.

Hopeless depression is not a specific diagnosis. Counselors see a great many people who have lost hope. Hopelessness and a sense that the future will never be any better are common symptoms reported by people suffering from depression. Even before it reaches the level of clinical depression, a lack of hope and catastrophizing greatly increase the risk that today’s problems will become tomorrow’s depression.

“Catastrophizing (consistently inferring catastrophic consequences resulting from a negative event), has been posited as a specific risk factor for depression” (Abramson et al. 1989).

Paranoia and catastrophizing.

The emotional regulation strategies “blaming others and catastrophizing were positively correlated with paranoia and anxiety” (Westermann, et al., 2013.)

“Worry is a significant concern for patients with paranoia. Worry in paranoia is likely to be caused by similar mechanisms as worry in emotional disorders. The results support the recent trial findings that standard techniques for treating worry in anxiety, suitably modified, are applicable for patients with paranoia” (Startup, et al., 2016.)

Poor sleep is caused by Catastrophizing.

Many research studies have shown direct connections between rumination, catastrophizing, and impaired sleep. Here are a couple of quotes from the research literature.

“Poor sleep quality, including difficulties falling asleep and waking during the night, commonly occur in early adolescence” (Carskadon, 2010).

“Up to 40% of adolescents experience some form of sleep difficulties at some point during adolescence” (Meltzer & Mindell, 2006)

Rumination magnifies your problems.

If your thinking style involves catastrophizing, looking for the worst-case scenarios, try to limit the time you spend considering alternatives. Unfortunately, people who catastrophize also tend to ruminate, going over and over the same material finding ever-increasing awful consequences. If catastrophize and ruminating are destroying your mental health, consider professional help before the problems of daily living become a serious mental illness.

More information about this topic and related subjects is found under Psychology

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

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.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

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

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

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

Thinking mistakes you are making.

By David Joel Miller.

Is your thinking full of bad habits?

Thinking

Thinking mistakes you are making.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

It is easy to drift into bad habits. Do something a certain way a few times and that becomes the default setting for your brain. After that, you need to put conscious effort into responding in a different way.

Many times people drift into bad thought habits and from then on having unhelpful thoughts pop into your mind becomes your usual way of thinking. Just because this is the way you always think about things does not make those thoughts true. Your bad thought habits may be making your problems worse and interfering with your having a happy life.

There are 11 ways your thinking may be full of bad habits.

1. Thinking it is all about you, personalizing.

If you walk into the room and people laugh you might think they were all talking about you. When someone is short or curt with you, do you think they are being disrespectful? Many times in life when someone ignores us or is less than helpful it has nothing to do with us. One of the great lessons of growing up is that most of the time other people are just too preoccupied with their own lives and problems to give you a second thought.

2. You magnifying mind blows things out of proportion.

When you think about what could happen, do you imagine the worst possible thing? If your mind can turn a minor inconvenience into the end of the world you have trained your thinking to be a magic magnifying mind.

You went on a date, you liked that other person and they said they would give you a call. But the next day comes and goes and no call. You are now convinced that they will never call, that you will never meet that special someone and that you will live the rest of your life alone. When they call an hour later you are now so bummed out from ruminating about this life alone you just don’t want to talk to them and you do not answer the phone.

There are lots of variations to this thought pattern. It rains for a few minutes and you are sure it will flood, you get stuck behind a truck and are sure you will be late to work and get fired. In each scenario, your mind leaps from a small problem to a happy-life threatening outcome.

3. Minimizing, discounting the positive.

You got ninety-nine questions out of a hundred right, but you are upset about the question you missed. Some people find it hard to take credit for the things they do well. The underlying thought here is that you should be perfect and that anything less is not acceptable.

If you can’t take a compliment, or you find it hard to accept credit for what you have done, you may have trained your brain to ignore anything you did well and focus only on the mistakes of life. This can result in a pretty bleak, discouraging way of looking at things.

4. Either Or, Black and White thinking, means you are either a winner or a loser.

High achievers are at extra risk for this one. If you have trained your brain to go for being the best at everything it can be hard to accept the size of the achievement that a second place might be.

Do not let your brain cheat you out of enjoying an accomplishment by insisting you have to be better than everyone else to be worthwhile.

5. Taking events out of context.

So you get the job but all you remember from the process is that you did not have a good answer for one of the questions. One criticism from your partner becomes they “never” like anything you do. You are on vacation for two weeks but the thing you most remember is the traffic jam on the way out-of-town that first day.

If when you think back on past events all you can remember are the rough spots you are falling into making too much of the small things and forgetting the big ones.

6. Jumping to conclusions.

He didn’t return my text right away so that means he does not want to talk to me. You feel a lump somewhere and don’t go to the doctor convinced you must have cancer and only days to live. Many people have developed the habit of jumping over all the possible good outcomes and landing in a pit of pain.

7. Overgeneralizing leads you to bad places.

“I did not get this job” becomes “I will never get a job.” That thought can get you so worked up that you stop looking for work. Believing because something did not go your way once that means you will never achieve your objective, can become the greatest obstacle to progress.

8. Self-Blame, believing you made a mistake so you are stupid, no good.

This mental and verbal self-abuse does not motivate you to work harder. Beating yourself up leads to feelings of helplessness and giving up. You shouldn’t accept this kind of treatment from others. Don’t abuse yourself this way.

9. Are you that good at mind reading?

Do you tell yourself, “When he does that it means — If she loved me she would know.”

Believing others should know what you want and need and then thinking less of them for not reading your mindsets your relationships up for failure. Believing that others should be able to read your mind and anticipate your needs without your voicing them creates misunderstandings.

10. Comparing up, that model or star is better than me.

Comparing yourself to others sets you up for disappointment. There are always people who have more friends on social media and who make more money. To feel better about yourself stop comparing. Especially do not compare yourself in your gardening outfit to someone walking down the red carpet.

11. Catastrophizing is thinking the worst possible outcome will happen.

Do you think “he is late, he probably got in an accident and died?” When things happen that are not to your liking is your first thought that this absolutely must not happen? Catastrophizing is looking for the worst possible outcome and then mentally rehearsing that thought in your head until it demolishes your sanity.

If you are practicing any of these bad thought habits work with someone on changing these unhelpful thoughts to more adaptive ones.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

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.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

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

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

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

13 Life beliefs that destroy self-confidence.

By David Joel Miller.

Are your beliefs about life undermining your self-confidence?

believing in self

Building Self Confidence
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

The beliefs you have about things have a powerful impact on what you feel and what happens.  Believe you can’t do some things and the odds are you won’t be able to do them. Most people have a few unhelpful beliefs about life. Those beliefs create the feelings you have when you encounter an obstacle in life. Feelings result in doing or not doing things. The wrong beliefs can destroy your self-confidence and turn a possible success into a dire failure. How many of these self-confidence destroying beliefs are you holding onto?

1. You need to be better than others to be OK.

The belief that others are allowed to make mistakes but you will need to be perfect to be acceptable results in low self-esteem, reduced confidence in your abilities and ultimately undermines your efforts to do things that could create a better life.

Do you always compare up? Come in second in the Olympics and you could easily compare yourself to the person who is first. That you had to beat hundreds, thousands, of other competitors to reach this level in the first place is something you lose sight of.

2. You need to obsess about what others think and do.

Other people’s opinions, particularly about you, are none of your business. Staying focused on others takes the focus off what you are doing. Concentrate on being the best person you can be. Take your game to the next level and you will find that where others are, does not matter.

3. You need attention to feel good about yourself?

Attention, like popularity, is fleeting. You have it one moment and the next it is gone. People who feel good about themselves work for their own approval not the applause of others. Like what you do and then the applause is a bonus, not the whole salary you will reserve for what you do.

4. Doing things for others means they are taking advantage of you.

If you feel taken advantage of stop doing that. Do good because it feels good to help others. If you do for others expecting their gratitude and thanks you will always end up feeling cheated. Do good because it makes you feel good to do it and no one can’t take that reward away from you.

5. Your accomplishments don’t matter.

Discounting your accomplishments tosses your self-confidence away. When you do something well do you tell yourself and others that it was no big deal? Do you think to yourself you should have done more, done it better and faster? Discounting your own accomplishments always leaves you short on the self-confidence end.

It is OK to accept compliments. Dismissing them devalues the person who has paid you that compliment. Accept compliments graciously and give yourself acknowledgment for things well done. The person you most need to have notice when you have done something well is you.

6. Everyone is your enemy. Do you think people are against you?

The belief that everyone is out to get you is guaranteed to destroy your self-confidence. What you are probably missing is that you are really not that important to others. They are mostly thinking about themselves. The only time’s people are jealous of you or out to get you is when you are way out front doing everything better than they are, or when you step on their toes in the process.  If you do well there will be people who criticize you. If no one says anything bad about you then you probably haven’t done much.

7. Everything you do is deadly serious.

Do you take yourself too seriously? Taking yourself too seriously magnifies your errors and minimizes your successes. Learn to enjoy life. Remember no one gets out of this alive so you can be miserable or you can enjoy the journey. The choice is up to you.

8. You can’t admit you made a mistake.

Accept that you are less than perfect. Trying to pretend that you never make a mistake takes its toll. If you say that you are lying. If you believe you never make a mistake you are lying to yourself. Get honest and accept that you, like everyone else, will miss a few things.

9. You need to control everything to be safe.

Are you trying to control the uncontrollable? Those who believe in God will tell you that you are trying to do God’s job. Some things are in your control and others are not. Not sure about that? Think if you tried harder you should be able to keep everything under control. Try making it rain exactly an inch a day. Did you get it right today? Ever try to teach a cat to bark or a dog to purr? How successful were you at that?

You will not be able to control your children, eventually, they escape. Your partner will resent you trying to control them and it will damage your relationship. Most things in life are out of your control. The only thing you really can control is your attitude as you set out each day to do what is in your control.

10. You shouldn’t have to praise people for just doing what they are supposed to do.

Does it pain you to praise others? If you find it hard to see the good in others, if you can’t praise them for what they have accomplished, then you will find praise for your efforts wanting.

Never tell a child they ever did anything right, point out all their mistakes and eventually, that child will learn to be helpless and will give up trying to please you. Has no one ever praised you? Did you give up somewhere along the way?

11. You expect others to let you down. You avoid working with others.

Expecting others to let you down and not offering them the opportunity creates what you fear. Yes, some people will let you down. They are not perfect. Neither are you. Even when you try your hardest you will let others down some of the time.

Humans are social animals. We need other people.  Let others be who they are and you will get the freedom to do likewise.

Yes, there are people you should avoid and dangerous places. Avoid them if you can and if you can’t exercise caution. But isolating does not result in self-confidence.

12. You don’t think you are any good.

If you don’t like you this is sure to undermining your self-confidence. Work on liking, loving you. Give yourself encouragement. Seek out the things you do well. Get to know yourself. If liking yourself is a challenge, work with a counselor and try to search for your good points.

13. Without others, you will be lonely.

If when you are alone you feel lonely you have not yet made a friend of yourself. Some people are more introverted. Others are more extroverted. Healthy people, introverts or extroverts, need some time alone and some time with others. Get your life in balance. Learn to enjoy your time alone and your time with others.

The cure for low self-confidence?

Work on these unhelpful beliefs. Learn and practice new helpful beliefs. Do more things and better things and give yourself love and encouragement even if no one else does. Read books on wellness and recovery and positive psychology. Especial look at books based on Cognitive Behavioral Therapies. Work with a counselor, therapist or life coach. You can change your beliefs, raise your self-confidence and feel good about yourself.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

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.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

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

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

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

You become who you think you are.

By David Joel Miller.

What you tell yourself about you comes true.

Growth

Becoming who you can be.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Are you a great fortune-teller or do you just specialize in self-fulfilling prophecies?

People like to tell themselves things about the future. They sometimes think by predicting the future they are protecting themselves from disappointment. The truth is you may be creating your own disappointment.

One of the surest ways to snatch defeat out of the grasp of victory is to tell yourself constantly that something bad will happen. Give your brain enough of this message and it works hard to create the failure you predicted.

Say you can’t and you can’t.

We hear a lot about the power of positive thinking. There is truth to that. If you think you can do things you get more done. We tell kids the story of “The Little Engine that Could” for a reason. Belief in yourself makes things happen.

Team leaders that inspire optimism in their teams reach more goals. Leaders know that telling their followers “they can” helps create accomplishments. Tell your people they have no chance and the effort ends.

Negative thoughts prevent things.

What we miss sometimes is that negative thoughts are just as powerful, maybe more powerful than positive ones.

Telling yourself you will fail inhibits any effort to succeed. Say you can’t often enough and your brain will start believing you. You can influence yourself to sabotage your efforts.

Think about a team and the half-time locker-room talk. Does the coach say don’t be concerned? I knew we were going to lose so don’t bother to put in any more effort? What a good coach does in inspire his team to believe in themselves.

Winners don’t just hope they will prevail they see themselves already having won. Those who plan on returning home empty-handed do not stand on the victory platform.

Be your own coach, expect you can do more than you know at this point in your life and then go out and make it happen.

Say no one likes you and you become difficult to like.

If you expect people to dislike you, the natural behavior would be to treat that person curtly. Why waste your time on people who do not like you? But if you expect everyone to dislike you this makes it hard for them to get past your wall and get to know you.

Expect the world to be full of enemies and you will find them. Believe that there are lots of friends out there, you just haven’t met them yet, and every day is another chance to meet that friend you do not yet know.

Start by liking yourself. To improve your self-esteem do more things and some of them have to work out. Ignore your less than perfect events and focus on your accomplishments. If you have had difficulties in your life and still showed up and tried, how have you been able to do that? Focus on your strengths and you will become stronger.

Saying you are dumb prevents learning.

Students who think they are dumb study less. They do not become excited about learning and they learn less. We repeatedly see adult learners who return to school after many years away and then they begin to study something that interests them. They commonly do better than they expected. Learning is very much about attitude. If you like what you are studying and you expect to learn it, the learning comes more easily.

What do you tell yourself about you?

Many people spend life thinking very unhelpful thoughts. If you say you will be lonely you create that isolation. Say you are on a quest to find a good friend and you will begin to meet new interesting people. Believe in yourself and search in new places. You may find a better you and a happier life just around the corner.

If you expect unhappiness you will look everywhere for it. If you expect to find happiness, you may be surprised at how often it is waiting there along your life path for you to stop and recognize it.

Is it time for you to toss the unhelpful thoughts and start practicing the new useful thought patterns? Who do you want to be? Focus on this. Practice thinking you are there and then move forward.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

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.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

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

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

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

Your thoughts are holding you back.

By David Joel Miller

How many of these unhelpful thoughts do you have?

Unhelpful Thoughts

Unhelpful Thoughts
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Some thoughts can help you get things done, others can hold you back.

If you regularly have any of those unhelpful thoughts they may be undermining your progress. Identifying your unhelpful thoughts and working on changing them can result in a much better life.

Do you ever have these thoughts?

You expect the worst.

If you habitually, always, expect the worse, you may find that no matter what happens you see the worst in it. Believing that bad things are sure to happen is a cognitive bias that results in being quick to spot the problems in life but prevents you from seeing the good.

Shift your focus.  Learn to look for the positive and you will discover that there are a lot of good things that have escaped your attention.

You expect the lead in every play.

It is all about you? If something goes wrong do you think it is your fault? If and when it fails, do you believe that says something about you? Just because people laugh when you enter a room does not mean they are laughing at you.

This unwavering thought, that what happens is all about you, puts a lot of pressure on you and in the end, you will find yourself unable to do everything.

Accept that much of what happens is about others and has nothing to do with you.

People are out to get you.

Some people do have enemies, that is true. But if everywhere you go everyone seems out to get you then you are misinterpreting a lot of facts. Most people are not motivated by trying to “get you” they are too busy with their own life. It is only when you make a habit of getting between them and their goals that they may have it in for you. The best way to avoid these results is to get out of their way, that or be so far ahead of them they can’t see you up ahead.

One other possibility, along the way you have harmed enough people so that you have created the truth in that there out to get you thought.

That belief that people are out to get you is a cognitive distortion. In severe cases this is paranoia. Truth is that most of the time, most of us are just not that important to others.

The future will be bad.

This thought is sure to doom you to a life of failure and misery. The single most important thing in creating a happy life is the attitude that having the life you want is possible. Hope is the thing that helps you bounce back from being knocked down. Hope is the resiliency factor.

If you have lost hope look for it anywhere you can find it.

You insist things go according to plan.

Having a plan is good. Expecting that things always go according to your plan is setting yourself up for disappointment and failure. Leave room in your planning for the unexpected. Planning is a valuable process. Insisting that things must follow your plan leaves you unable to cope with the unexpected.

You keep waiting for the perfect time.

There may be no such thing as the perfect time for anything. Waiting for the perfect time robs you of the only time you will ever be able to start working on this project – now. If you put off action until some future time you may be unprepared when that time comes.

If there are real reasons to wait to take action make sure you are learning and practicing the skills you will need when that time comes. Begin by taking small steps in your desired direction and see how much closer you will be when the appointed time does arrive.

You do not believe in taking risks.

Life is risks. Doing nothing is a risk. Doing anything is a risk. Why not take the risk of doing something worth the effort? There are no sure things. That’s why we buy insurance, to protect us from losses when the unexpected happens.

Learn to evaluate risks. Take those risks where the results will be worth the risks.

You do not want to be different.

Everyone is different in their own way. Want to accomplish something in life? You are required to take risks and to be different. Average and same do not get noticed. Being the same as everyone else is a sure way to set yourself up for a bland life.

You are afraid to change your mind.

Only a real fool continues to insist they are right despite mounting evidence they have made an error. If you stick to a failed plan and continue to argue about your rightness you lose the opportunity to change direction and head in a new better direction.

Admit your errors and learn from them. Adjust your efforts. Errors are not the end of your options, they are only improvement opportunities.

You are afraid you will be taken advantage of.

Someone may get something from you. That is called a bargain. Learn to check out as many of the facts as possible and then take a risk. The only way to have good things happen is to do things and take chances. Avoiding risks is avoiding all the possible good things that may well happen to the ones who risk big.

The reason most people are taken advantage of? They are expecting to get something from the other person that they have not earned. That old saying “you can’t con an honest person” contains a lot of truth.

You are afraid to say no.

Saying yes to everything leaves you stretched too far and unable to do things you want to do. You do not have to do everything everyone wants you to do. Say no; just make sure your no’s are really no. Not saying no leaves others in control of your life.

You are afraid to say yes.

Not saying yes to things can be even more harmful than not saying no. We often miss out on things that could have been beneficial and pleasurable because we were afraid to say yes to an opportunity. If opportunity is knocking you have to answer the door.

Nothing good ever happens to you.

Believing nothing good can or will happen in your life leaves you blind to the opportunities all around you. Look for the things that are ungood and you will not grab the good things when they are right in front of you.

Have you fallen into the habit of practicing these unhelpful thoughts? Are you ready to get your habitual, automatic, thoughts overhauled?

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

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.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

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

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

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

Use Thought Stopping to get rid of negative thoughts

By David Joel Miller

Are your own thoughts causing you problems?

Thought Stopping

Thought Stopping
Photo courtesy of Flickr (jurvetson)

Negative emotions, depression, anxiety, and anger are often preceded by negative thoughts. If your own thoughts are making your life worse it is time to get those thoughts turned off.

Thought stopping is a tool you can use to quiet the mind and get those runaway thoughts to stop controlling you. When you find your mind occupied with an unhelpful thought, train yourself to mentally yell STOP or any other command you find effective in getting that thought to stop talking.

Arguing with the unhelpful thought or “disputing” this thought creates room for more helpful thoughts. If you have the thought “I never do anything right” tell yourself “Stop that, I do to do things right some of the time.”

Using this STOP command, especially with an added “correction” helps you reduce unhealthy thoughts and increase positive thoughts in 3 ways.

1. You train yourself to have fewer negative thoughts

Practice telling those unhelpful thoughts to stop and over time you will get fewer of them. The mentally yelling stop becomes a form of punishing the negative thoughts. Punishing the negative thoughts rather than beating yourself up for having them rewards you by having fewer negative thoughts.

The more you practice thought stopping the more positive you become and the healthier your mind becomes. Breaking entrenched habits takes many repetitions and thought stopping is something you can easily do many times a day.

2. Thought stopping distracts you from an unhelpful thought.

Stay focused on the unhelpful thought and it gets reinforced. The more you think that negative thought the more it becomes an automatic thought and eventually it may reach the level of a core belief.

Tell someone they are stupid often enough and they believe you. Tell yourself that you are stupid and eventually your mind will make mistakes to try to make this self-talk true.

Use as many methods as you can find to take the focus off those negative thoughts and you will interrupt their control over your mind.

3. Disputing that thought can turn a negative thought into a positive affirmation.

If yelling at them or distracting yourself from them does not get those negative thoughts out of your head try adding a tag on the end. Include an argument with this negative thought in every conversation and the unhelpful thought will start talking less.

Have a recurring thought that “I can’t take this?” Next time you hear that tape play, add on the disclaimer at the end. “Yes I can take this, I have handled tough situations before.”

The alcoholic or drug addict gets frequent thoughts from their brain – “I need a drink, I need to get high.” Recovering people have learned to tell themselves every time those thoughts come scratching around – “No I don’t need a drink or a fix.” “I am in recovery and can handle this clean and sober.”

The results for thought stopping?

Thought stopping has been shown to be effective about 70% of the time for phobias. The more unreasonable the fear or phobia the better thought stopping works. It is reported to be very helpful in coping with cravings in addiction or managing other urges.

Thought stopping has been less effective when the problem is obsessive-compulsive behaviors. For compulsive rituals, the successes rate for thought stopping is closer to 20%. Thought stopping is primarily meant for getting rid of negative or unhelpful thinking. For OCD behaviors something more complete like exposure and response prevention is recommended.

Exposure and response prevention is not recommended for addictions. Having an alcoholic sit in a bar and test themselves increases the risk of failing one more test and convincing themselves they will never get clean.

If you are unsure what will work best for your condition, try working with a professional or experienced peer person.

Do you have any default thoughts that are not helpful? Might thought stopping help you get those thoughts under control?

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

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.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

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

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

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.