Thinking makes it so
Einstein is credited with saying the the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
How often do we actually thinking about thinking? About the process that occurs in our brain when we consider what steps to take next? Reactions and responses are often spontaneous. Even if we give some consideration on how to approach a topic or engage in a particular task, do we really consider the way our minds form thoughts?
We have probably all heard about the conscious and the subconscious and how the latter influences the former. Sometimes our thinking is obvious though and we feed ourselves the same constant message. The message is often a negative one - and greatly exaggerated.
You Are in Control of You
One of the things to keep in mind is that you are the one who controls what goes on inside of your brain. This might seem like a difficult concept to grasp because often thoughts seem to arise and that even when we approach a new situation, we have expectations that have already developed.
A psychologist named Aaron Beck recognized these thoughts patterns and referred to them as automatic thoughts. Each of us have experienced these automatic thinking patterns - most of which direct us toward failure
Being aware that this is happening to us and trying to readjust out thinking, re-framing, is one healthy way to deal with this situation. Psychologists and social science have agreed on these negative thought patterns and given them names.
Some of the More Common Types of Negative Thought Patterns
Referred to properly as Cognitive Distortions, here is a list of some examples:
- Absolute Thinking - this is when experiences are seen as all good or all bad when generally most are a mixture of both. For example, you may have a neighbor who mows his lawn early in the morning. Because of his behavior you say he is a bad neighbor, when in reality, there may be many other good qualities you are overlooking. This could actually be a barrier to what could be a good relationship in your life.
- Overgeneralization - this is assuming that deficiencies in one area of life apply to others. An example of this might be the fact that you might have not as done well on a test that you took. The distorted conclusion from this would be that you are not a good test taker. It could lead to you setting yourself up for failure in future tasks. You may even avoid test-taking altogether. You might even forfeit a chance for a good job interview because of this thinking.
- Selective abstraction - sometimes called selective thinking, this seems to be a common practice by many. Basically this refers to looking at the negatives in a situation instead of the positives as well. Maybe you got into a disagreement with a spouse or other individual in your life. When you think about this person, you focus only on their bad qualities and ignore the good ones. Or maybe you are considering a job change, and all you can see is why you shouldn't pursue this. You should also consider the positive elements of a situation as well.
- Arbitrary inference - this is when you come to a negative conclusion without sufficient evidence. Some examples of this are also called "mind reading" and "fortune telling". For example, we may be at the grocery store when the cashier gives us the wrong change. From that we determine that the clerk is a thief and this is how she gets away with it. In reality, it was probably a legitimate mistake.
- Magnification - creating large problems out of small ones. When preparing for a weekend trip to the coast, your child spills their juice on the way out the door. You become angry and talk about how the child ruined your vacation because you are going to be delayed and stuck in traffic because you have to leave later. Maybe you will have to deal with a little more traffic, but your vacation certainly is not ruined.
- Minimization - making large problems small and not dealing adequately with them. You start to find yourself sleeping in later than usual and are getting to work a little late. Rather than looking at the situation for what it could be, you tell yourself that it isn't a big deal and that everyone does this. The fact might be that you are not receiving an adequate amount of rest or having some sleeping problems that need to be examined.
- Personalization - accepting blame for negative events without sufficient evidence. This could imply that the individual is taking everything personally. For example, the supervisor may say that she wishes to see more productivity from the workers and the employee might think I am not being a good enough worker. She means me. The young softball player might strike out once while up to bat and say that his team lost because he didn't hit the ball right.
There are Many More
There are many more types of these distortions and some of the ones listed above may be known under another term. There is a lot of overlap as well, but one pattern that should be obvious is the fact that in this type of thinking, it is you who are reaching a negative conclusion.
Often the thing at hand becomes larger than it needs to; it is exaggerated greatly. And more often than not, the conclusion arrived at is inaccurate.
Keep in mind that you are in control of your thinking. Take some time consider what you is actually going on inside your head. Why do I think this? Is this accurate? Am I having false expectations? Am I setting myself up for failure.
Certainly however, there are times when it is good to exercise on the side of caution. You can't go into every new situation or be completely comfortable with every new person you meet. However, these cognitive distortions are actually biases that could be hindering you quality of life. Your own brain could be holding you back.
And that is a disservice that you can do without.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2019 Finn
Mitara N from South Africa on March 30, 2020:
I agree we need to be in control of our thoughts, as often we overthink, second guess, and thereafter doubt ourself.
Very well written and enlightening article