I’m worthless.” “I can’t do this.” “They must think I’m weird.”
Do these sound familiar? Fear not, for most of us, they do – in one way or another. In professional circles they are called “negative automatic thoughts,” and while we probably don’t even realize their constant presence in our everyday life, psychologists emphasize how important it is to recognize and catch them “red-handed.” In this article I will be discussing how to cope with negative thinking,9 easy steps.
Negative Thoughts Accepted as Truths
Negative automatic thoughts are deeply-rooted beliefs about ourselves we accept as truths, as known facts that don’t deserve any second thought because they just are. But is it really so?
It’s scientifically proven that these negative beliefs highly affect our mood (even leading to depression in severe cases), our motivation and our performance – among other things such as our relationships. While dealing with them will be a serious and long process, rest assured, they can be dealt with.
9 Steps to Challenge Your Negative Automatic Thoughts
Here comes a 9-step list, which might help you start.
Give yourself some time and think about one of your negative beliefs about yourself, then answer the following questions as thoroughly and truthfully as you can:
1. What are your proofs that the statement is true and relevant to your current situation?
Let’s say your negative automatic thought is this: “I can’t write this article.”
First, you should simply collect your proofs that support this thought. Write everything your mind throws at you. For example: “I’ve never written an article before” or “I’m not skillful enough to write something worthy of reading,” etc.
In a lot of cases, simply saying these doubts and reasons out loud can make us realize how banal or illogical they sound.
But let’s not stop here.
2. What goes against these proofs?
You heard your reasons. Now try to challenge them.
Just like before, collect and write everything that might weaken your initial reasoning down. You must have put a lot of energy into research before starting the article. You might be very interested in the topic. You have already written similar articles before.
The point of this step is to make your brain work around its automatisms, to get creative with your reasoning and realize that these thoughts aren’t the only ‘truth’ out there.
3. Is there a possibility that you have some alternatives? If so, what would they be?
This point is really important because it helps you imagine different, preferred outcomes. Visualization is the first step towards realization – it sounds like an awful cliché, but as most awful clichés, it’s true – so let’s try to describe your other options as vividly as possible.
Staying with our example: imagine how it would feel like if you could successfully write the article. Let yourself indulge in the feelings of hope, joy, and pride.
4. How would the two closest persons to you react to your situation?
We usually have a few friends or family members who we look up to, who we perhaps consider inspirational. Imagine what they would do in your current situation.
Of course, it’s easy to use the handy excuse “she/he would never think like me” or “she/he could do it in a second, they are so much better than me, ” but that isn’t the point of this exercise. Let’s act a little. Imagine how they would face the same fears you have. Would they react differently? If so, how? Or would they be similar to you? Is it possible that you’re not so much worse than anybody else, then?
5. What would be your advice to them?
Now that you imagined their initial reaction, you can go on to the next step. They sit down and tell you about their fears and insecurities. What should you tell them?
You know exactly how “oh, C’mon, of course, you can write a fantastic article” doesn’t work. It’s too easy. It’s too shallow. If it worked like that, you wouldn’t be here reading this. Instead, try to talk to this struggling inner friend about his or her problem. Take them seriously and make an effort to come up with some kind of advice or solution you find useful in their situation.
We can surprise ourselves with how creative we can get if we allow ourselves to “change places” with someone we consider worthy of admiration.
6. What proves that your advice is relevant?
Once again, challenge the negative beliefs. Ask your inner friend: “when was the last time you actually wrote a horrible article? Has it ever happened at all? If so, what exactly happened and what might have been the reasons behind it?” Answering these honestly and methodically will certainly lead you towards the realization that our initial beliefs often do not stem from general previous experience or a clear, logical chain of thoughts.
Explaining and analyzing your advice helps to visualize a way to change the occurring negative thoughts, too, and it’s a lot easier to make practical steps if you see an actual way to do it.
7. Do you blame yourself for something you’re not entirely responsible for?
This question might seem like the odd one out, but it really isn’t. It’s important to consider what comes from within and what comes from our environment. What’s our responsibility and what is beyond our reach? What will be a fair judgment in a certain situation and what isn’t?
It’s possible that someone has rejected one of your previous articles too harshly, for example.
It does not mean that the one giving the feedback was necessarily right and it certainly does not mean that we are ought to measure our own value based on their singular remark.
8. Have you ever experienced that your negative automatic thought wasn’t entirely true?
Think about all the times you have ever written an article before. What happened? Have you always, without an exception received negative feedback?
Most of the time, if we stop and think about the current situation, we realize that something very similar has already happened to us before. Let’s recall these instances in as much detail as possible. Helping yourself see that your brain might be cheating you will be a great way to take the edge off and relieve your anxiety because it proves that you are capable of acting or feeling differently under similar circumstances.
9. What would your loved ones do to prove to you that your negative automatic thought isn’t entirely true? What would the closest to you say?
Just like before, it’s time to see yourself through someone else’s eyes. Changing your perspective and trying to think with someone else’s brain can be really helpful in finding seemingly obvious things you can’t see for yourself. Don’t try to argue their opinions. Hear them and let them affect you. Even if you can’t agree with them, try to accept that this is their opinion. It is possible to see you as a valuable, skilled, clever, pretty, etc. person.
You are capable of it too. You just proved it.
An extensive net of negative automatic thoughts creates a negative self-image which results in a lack of self-confidence and feelings of inferiority. It is important to know how to differentiate between our realistic and unrealistic self-evaluations, general thoughts and beliefs.
Though obviously, getting rid of our negative automatic thoughts or – in some cases – simply understanding them and learning how not to listen to their sneaky voices takes a lot of time, energy, and courageous work, these steps might serve as a good starting point.
How do you deal with negative self talk? Let me know in the comments below.