Taking Out the Mental Trash – Part 3

Posted by on February 20, 2010 in Skills Building | 0 comments

Last week I introduced you to a series of thinking errors (i.e., distorted ways of thinking). I invited you to familiarize yourself with these patterns and to begin monitoring your thoughts to see which ones you engage in the most.

This week, I’ll walk you through a process of exploring stressful thoughts to see if they are true, accurate, complete ….. There is value in working the process on paper, so please write down your responses.

The first step of the process is often the most challenging. To start, you need to identify a specific thought. Not a description of a situation. Not who said what. But instead, what exactly was going through your mind. If a court reporter could see what was going on between your ears, what would they note down. Don’t worry, this can get easier with practice.

1. Give an example of a distressing thought you had during the past few days.

2. Review the list of thinking error types and identify the errors in your thoughts.

3. Is this thought true? What is the evidence that this thought is true?

4. To what extent is this thought true (e.g., some times, occasionally, often)? Look out for words like always and never.

5. Check for emotionally charged words, such as labels (e.g., stupid, jerk, devastating, horrible). Maintain perspective.

6. Realistically consider the worst case scenario – briefly. If the thought is true, how will you survive, cope, and overcome the situation?

7. Talk to yourself compassionately. Note the positive.

8. Based on your work above, create a substitute thought that is accurate, realistic, and maintains perspective.

Let’s go through an example together …

1. Give an example of a distressing thought you had during the past few days.

(Situation: Ed, the superbly wonderful program administrator I had worked with for years, announced his resignation.)

My reaction – Automatic / first thoughts: I don’t want to work here without him. This stinks. No one will ever be as good as him. I don’t want to work with anyone else. (And the mental temper-tantrum went on…)

2. Review the list of thinking error types and identify the errors in your thoughts.

The following thinking errors were contained in these thoughts:

All or nothing thinking: No one else could ever be good enough.

Filtering: I was not letting myself consider that something good could come from the situation – for him or for me.

Jumping to conclusions: I assumed since no other manager had even done such a good job that no one else ever would again. I also assumed that I could / would not adjust well to another manager.

Catastrophizing: My skillful friend would no longer be my manager. We were losing a real treasure. It was all downhill from there.

Emotional reasoning: I was sad and surprised. This greatly shaped my initial reaction (thoughts).

Should: While not explicit in the thoughts listed above, at a deeper level, my thoughts likely contained should – such as “He should stay.” or “I should leave, too.”

Labeling: I said “this stinks” as if that one word could sum up the entire situation.

Personalization: My initial reaction was all about me. It did not consider anyone else.

Blaming: Again, while not explicit in the thoughts above, there could have been another thought that blamed my friend / manager for the sadness I felt.

3. Is this thought true? What is the evidence that this thought is true?

No. I could not assume to know what it would be like to work with a different manager or how that manager’s performance would be.

4. To what extent is this thought true (e.g., some times, occasionally, often)? Look out for words like always and never.

No one … ever …

5. Check for emotionally charged words, such as labels (e.g., stupid, jerk, devastating, horrible). Maintain perspective.

stinks

6. Realistically consider the worst case scenario – briefly. If the thought is true, how will you survive, cope, and overcome the situation?

I can survive and learn to work with a different manager. The world has not ended.

7. Talk to yourself compassionately. Note the positive.

I am blessed to have had the opportunity to work with this manager, and I am very happy that he will be doing more of the type of work he most enjoys.

8. Based on your work above, create a substitute thought that is accurate, realistic, and maintains perspective.

After I got past the initial shock and got to thinking more clearly – this is what I thought:

I am sad to hear this news. I was not expecting it. It has been an enormous blessing to work with Ed, and I will miss him. While the next manager may not be as much of a delight, I will make the best of it. I work with a great group of people, and we will get through this together.  I am excited that Ed will be doing the work he most enjoys. He is so gifted in that area. I will miss him but wish him the very best and will look forward to staying in touch.

Over time, as you practice this process, you can learn to do this in real-time. That’s when the greatest benefits come in. And, as you repeatedly practice actively managing your thoughts, the nature of your thoughts will likely change, so that your automatic thoughts contain fewer distortions or errors.

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