How to change unhelpful thinking styles: Part two
In the second instalment of this three-part blog series we will continue to take a deeper look at some of those common unhelpful thinking styles that we all fall into from time to time. These thinking styles can contribute to low mood or anxiety and keep us acting in unhelpful ways.
In this series we’ve provided a description, example, and management strategy for each type of unhelpful thinking style. These strategies are taken from either cognitive therapy or acceptance and commitment therapy. In the former, unhelpful thoughts are challenged and replaced with more helpful thoughts. In the later, the way we relate to unhelpful thoughts is changed rather than changing the content of the thought itself.
This thinking trap involves blowing things out of proportion and viewing the situation or outcome as the worst thing possible. For example, imagine you have applied for a job, however were not offered an interview and think “My resume must not be very competitive”, which spirals to “even if I do get offered an interview I’ll crack under the pressure”, which in turn spirals to “I’m never going to get a job”.
To challenge catastrophising thoughts, apply the brakes and remember that you don’t know how things are going to turn out. Instead, try allowing your thoughts to come and go on their own without hooking into them. You can do this by imagining your thoughts as leaves floating by on a stream, as cars travelling on the freeway, or as clouds floating in the sky.
Labelling occurs when we make global statements about ourselves or other people based on one specific incident. For example, you forget to message your friend on their birthday and think “I’m so self-absorbed” or your partner is late home from watching the footy with their friends making you late to your own engagement and you think “they’re so selfish”.
Try catching and identifying these thoughts as Labelling “Ah, there’s labelling” or thanking your mind for that thought “Is that right mind? Thanks for the thought”.
This thinking trap involves thinking in two absolute categories: you’re either perfect or a complete failure; right or wrong; good or bad, with no shades of grey in between. For example, you perform below your average on an assessment for university and think “I’m a failure” or you try out for the local footy team’s A squad and are made a reserve and think “I’ll never be good enough”.
To change your relationship with these thoughts, remember that thoughts are just words/ sounds/bits of language in our heads. These thoughts are neither true nor false, fact nor fiction, they are just stories (opinions, beliefs, judgements) that our minds like to tell us. Try catching these thoughts and saying “Ah, there’s the ‘I’m not good enough’ story”, or “Ah, there’s the ‘I’m a failure’ story”.
Shoulding and musting
Involves placing inflexible rules on your own and others behaviours- rules which are often setting the bar too high and are unrealistic to achieve, and when we break a rule we often experience guilt. For example, imagine you hold the rule “I should go to the gym more and I shouldn’t eat carbs” and then you skip the gym and eat a bowl of pasta… how might you feel?
When you notice yourself shoulding or musting try and bring some flexibility into the rule by softening it to something like “It would be nice if….”, or “I would prefer it if…”.
Written by Dr Gemma Healey, Clinical Psychology Registrar