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New Year, New Thoughts

Thought Series Part 1

Happy New Year! Welcome 2016.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about how what goes on in your head matters more than what goes into your mouth. Click HERE for a refresher. Your thoughts are incredibly powerful, and by transforming your negative ones, you can create significant positive changes in whatever aspects of your life you choose.

You have the ability to work with your thoughts to create less stress, better health and more happiness. How? I’ll tell you how.

I'm going to share an extremely effective cognitive behavioural therapy tool with you. It’s straightforward and if you use it consistently, it will absolutely work. I use it myself and I find it to be one of the most helpful exercises in my tool belt to help reduce negative thinking patterns and emotional distress and to increase my feelings of joy.

This exercise is based on the principle that thoughts lead to emotions, which lead to behaviour, which then leads back to thoughts about the behaviour, and so on. If you have an Automatic Negative Thought ("ANT"), it will usually lead to an uncomfortable emotion, such as sadness, anger or hurt. As a result, you may change your behaviour in a way that does not serve you. Then you have an ANT about that behaviour, and the downward spiral begins. This Thought Series will help you stop the downward spiral.

The exercise has eight short steps. I am going to share with you one step per blog post in this Thought Series so that you will be able to master each step effortlessly. By the end of January you will be well on your way to reducing your ANTS and improving your sense of well-being.

Let’s get started!

Step 1: Identifying ANTS

According to John-Paul Flintoff, author of How To Change The World, "Psychologists use the term Automatic Negative Thoughts to describe the ideas that pop into our heads uninvited, like burglars, and leave behind a mess of uncomfortable emotions.”

ANTS are also commonly referred to as Cognitive Distortions, and they fall into a variety of categories:

  • All-or-Nothing Thinking - You see everything in terms of black-and-white.

  • Overgeneralization - You see a single negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat. Such thoughts often include the words "always" or "never."

  • Mental Filtering - You pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it exclusively so that your vision of reality becomes darkened.

  • Disqualifying the Positive - Your reject or ignore positive experiences, insisting to yourself that they "don't count" for some reason or other.

  • Jumping to Conclusions - This ANT includes Mind Reading (you arbitrarily conclude someone is reacting negatively to you and you don't bother to check if this is true) and Fortune Telling (you anticipate an outcome and assume your prediction is an established fact).

  • Catastrophizing (Magnification) or Minimizing - You overestimate the chances of disaster and exaggerate the importance of things such as errors, or you inappropriately shrink things under they appear tiny, such as your own desirable qualities.

  • Emotional Reasoning - You assume that your negative emotions reflect the way things really are: "I feel it, therefore it must be true." You mistake feelings for facts.

  • Should, Must, and Ought To Statements - Using “should”, “ought to”, or “must” statements sets up unrealistic expectations of yourself and others. You operate by rigid rules and don't allow for flexibility. The emotional consequence is guilt.

  • Labeling and Mislabeling - This is an extreme form of overgeneralization. For example, instead of describing your error, you attach a negative label to yourself: "I'm not good enough. I'm a failure."

  • Personalization - You take responsibility for something that’s not your fault. You think that what people say or do is some kind of reaction to you, or is in some way related to you. Also known as taking things personally.

Any of those sound familiar?

How to Identify ANTS:

1. The first step to changing your thoughts is to become aware of them. We are often not cognisant of even half of the thoughts we think most of the time. Creating awareness around your thinking is key, especially around your ANTS. How do you do this? Become the observer in your mind. Hang out in your gray matter for a while and watch what thoughts are being bandied about in there.

2. Collect your ANTS. When you notice an ANT, write it down - either on paper, in your phone, on your tablet or whatever else works best for you. Start right away, and continue until you have collected the majority of your common ANTS. You will notice that some of them are more repetitive than others.

And that's the first step. It's simple, quick, and easy, and will prepare your for Wednesday's post where I’m going to talk about the next step for changing your ANTS.

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