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Updated on December 28, 2010

Identifying Negative

Thoughts and Irrational Beliefs

Many of the thoughts that automatically enter our minds are negative, irrational or unrealistic. Although they may seem completely valid as they are running through your head, automatic thoughts can be very deceptive. Being able to identify these thoughts can help you learn how to control your emotions.

To change your negative thoughts, you first have to gain an understanding of your own specific thinking patterns. Consider the following examples and whether you can identify with any of them. Holding pre-conceived notions Tim feels that things “never” work out for him. After being turned down for a job, he thinks, “I couldn’t get this job, why should I even look for another one? I’ll just get passed up.” Tim has formed an opinion based on a single situation and uses this to predict how similar situations will turn out in the future.

Thinking in absolute terms Mandy tends to think of things in extremes – she doesn’t consider anything less than perfect to be acceptable. For example, she often thinks, “If I don’t exercise each day, I may as well not even bother to try.” She frequently criticizes herself and those around her for not doing things according to how they “should” be done. This often leads to her feeling angry, frustrated and unmotivated.

Making a mountain out of molehill /molehill out of mountain Jill often views a “small” issue in her life as something much more significant than it actually is. For example, when an idea she
suggested at work was not acted upon, she considered herself a worthless employee who would most likely lose her job and never be able to find another. Even if she has done a good job, she thinks, “It’s nothing. Anyone could have done it as well or better.”

Playing the blame game Jeff is quick to blame himself for anything that goes wrong even when he’s not entirely responsible for the outcome. Other times, he does the opposite – blaming others for situations in his life without actually looking at what he has done that could have
contributed to the problem. For example, he frequently tells his wife, “ It’s not my fault that I keep gaining weight. It’s you and the kids that have the junk food in the house.”

Being a negative magnet Ryan received a lot of positive comments from his boss in his yearly review. He also received some mild constructive feedback. However, he only focused on the minor negative comments and completely discounted the rest of the review. This type of thinking tends to “attract” negative comments rather than taking all factors of the situation into consideration.

Drawing emotional conclusions Mary often draws conclusions about what kind of a person she is based on how she feels at any given moment. For example, after feeling guilty for having forgotten to go to a friend’s graduation, she felt she was a horrible person. One morning when a co-worker didn’t say hello to her, she thought, “He must be angry with me. It’s all my fault he’s acting this way.”

Living under a dark cloud Robert is convinced that “nothing” will ever work out for him. He views the “glass as half empty,” and even small setbacks lead him to believe that he will “never” be happy and will “always” feel miserable. Despite what anyone says to the contrary, he holds on to the notion that there is no joy in his life and that he is a miserable person. Because of this,
people tend to push him away, which results in a continuous cycle of rejection.

Do you recognize any of these patterns in the way you think about yourself, your situations, or your future? If you don’t yet, that’s okay. Most thinking happens so quickly and so automatically that we don’t even realize it’s happening. Remember, the first step is to recognize negative thoughts. Only then can you fight against them.

Fighting Back Against Negative Thoughts.
There are several ways to challenge negative thoughts. When you find yourself thinking negatively, try some of the following suggestions to help get you back on track to more positive ways of thinking.

Consider the evidence (or lack of ) that you have to support your beliefs.
Can you back up the way you are feeling?
Is there a chance that you could be wrong?
What other explanations could there be for the situation?
What other factors could have contributed to your situation?
Consider all the possible outcomes of how your situation could turn out.
Remember – nobody’s perfect!

Don’t set unrealistic expectations for yourself or for others.
Give yourself credit for your effort and accomplishments.
Be kind to yourself - treat yourself the way you would treat a friend.
Don’t make hasty judgments when you are upset.
Instead, try revisiting situations when you are in a more positive mood.
Replace negative thoughts with positive ones.

Try to reframe your situation as a positive learning experience.
Look for the good in every situation. Sometimes things that are seemingly negative turn out to be blessings in disguise.
Use phrases such as “I will,” “I can,” or “I choose,” and you just may find yourself believing them. For example, “It’s hopeless” may be replaced with “I have the power to control how I handle this situation, and I choose to …”

Surround yourself with positive people.
Believe in yourself and in the power you have to overcome your situation.
Don’t give up hope.
Use your imagination.
Picture yourself successfully dealing with the situation in a positive way.
Or, imagine someone else experiencing the same situation. How would you view them?
Smile until you mean it.
When you are feeling particularly negative, smiling can do wonders for your mood. If you stick
with it and keep smiling no matter how bad you may be feeling, eventually your smile just might take over.

Be realistic.
Try to see the situation from a realistic point of view. Ask yourself the following questions to help put things into perspective.
How long is the situation truly going to last?
What’s the worst that can happen?
Is the situation really unbearable, or is it just difficult?
Are you characterizing yourself based on a single event? What are your other traits?
Consider examples of times you have been in a similar situation and have gotten through it.
Take care of yourself. Keeping fit and eating healthy can help to reduce stress and negative thoughts.


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