12 Ways to Avoid Unhelpful Thinking Habits

12 Ways to Avoid Unhelpful Thinking Habits

12 Ways to Avoid Unhelpful Thinking Habits
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Those annoying unhelpful thinking habits that we all have from time to time can be a real pain in the butt, and they never seem to be far away either. They hide just around the corner and pop up when we least expect, reaching out and touching us on the shoulder, reminding us of impending doom or our feelings of inadequacy.

It’s good to remember that they are just thoughts. They’re created in that electric charged jelly-like thing that resides inside our skulls. They’re fleeting, transient and they’re not actually real. We only manifest them.

Nonetheless they can hold a powerful grip on us and our actions and they can be quite disconcerting. What we must do is realise that we don’t have to surrender to them, or let them control us. We can take charge and rephrase them when they do arrive, it's the power of positive thinking.

Here’s a list of 12 common unhelpful thinking habits and a few positive pointers beneath each to make you think differently about them instead.

1. Mental Filter

When we notice only what the filter allows or wants us to see. We dismiss anything that doesn’t ‘fit’. It’s like looking through dark blinkers or gloomy specs, only catching the negative stuff, while anything more positive or realistic is simply disregarded.

Ask yourself: Am I only noticing the bad? Am I filtering out the positives? What would be more realistic? Or, can I simply be more optimistic?

2. Judgements

Making evaluations or judgements about events, ourselves, others or the world in general rather than describing what we actually see and have evidence for.

Think instead: I’m making an evaluation about the situation or person. It’s how I make sense of the world, but that doesn’t mean my judgements are always right or helpful. Is there another perspective?

3. Prediction

Believing we know what’s going to happen in the future. That’s one of my favourites, suddenly, we have magic powers and can predict all future outcomes. We clearly can’t!

Take pause: Am I thinking that I can predict the future? How likely is it that might really happen?

4. Emotional Reasoning

I feel bad so it must be bad. I feel anxious so I must be in danger, that sort of thing. It’s the natural fight or flight reflex we’ve inherited from our ancestors which was useful to them when they lived in a world of different dangers, like being prey to wild animals or at risk of attack from barbarians. In the modern world, this reflex can be quite unhelpful, not to mention exhausting.

Think: My feelings are just a reaction to my thoughts, and thoughts are just automatic brain reflexes.

5. Mind-reading

Another classic, it goes hand in hand with predicting the future. We are telepathic and can read everybody else’s minds; it’s another super power straight out of X-Men! It’s not the same as empathising with another human being as that is a useful skill, it’s assuming we know what others are thinking (usually something negative about us).

Rephrase: Am I assuming I know what others are thinking? What’s the evidence? These are my own thoughts, not theirs. Is there another, more balanced way of looking at it?

6. Mountains and Molehills

Why do we do it to ourselves? The world is going to end because I’m running late for a meeting, I fell out with my brother so he’s never going to speak to me again, or my child misbehaved again so now she’s going to turn out to be a criminal.

It’s basically exaggerating the risk of danger or the negatives. Minimising the odds of how things are most likely to turn out, or reducing the awareness of positives.

Take a fresh look: Am I exaggerating the bad stuff? How would someone else see it? What’s the bigger picture?

7. Compare and Despair

Seeing only the good and positive aspects in others and getting upset when comparing ourselves negatively against them. This is completely counterproductive! You’re unique and have your own gifts, comparing yourself to others is as pointless as comparing apples to bananas.

Step back: Am I doing that ‘compare and despair’ thing again? What would be a more balanced and helpful way of looking at it? What are my gifts and strengths?

8. Catastrophising

Imagining and believing that the worst possible thing will happen. It’s quite an unrealistic place to be, and very unhelpful. Always believing the worst is disempowering too.

Think instead: What’s most likely to happen? And if the worst does really happen, can I cope and accept the consequences?

9. Critical Self

Putting ourselves down, self-criticism or blaming ourselves for events or situations that are not totally our fault or responsibility.

More helpful: Would most people who really know me say that about me? Is this something I’m truly at fault or responsible for? If not, park it. It’s out of your control.

10. Black and White Thinking

Believing that something or someone can only be good or bad, right or wrong rather than anything in between (as us complex, contradictory humans are).

Remind yourself: Things aren’t either totally black or totally white, there are shades of grey. Where is this on the spectrum?

11. Shoulds and Musts

Thinking or saying ‘I should’ (or shouldn’t) and ‘I must’ puts pressure on ourselves and sets up unrealistic expectations.

Take another view: Am I putting more pressure on myself or setting up expectations of myself that are impossible? What would be more realistic?

12. Memories

Current situations and events can trigger upsetting memories, leading us to believe that the danger is here and now rather than in the past, causing us distress in the present.

It’s better to realise: This is just a reminder of the past. That was then, this is now. Even though the memory makes me feel upset, it’s not actually happening again right now.
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