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I have been working for a decade now, and some comments were recurrent during annual interviews: STAY POSITIVE!

It was not highlighted as a flaw but rather as a progress line to follow.

Say, it would be even more enjoyable to work with me if I could show more optimism to discomfort situations.

So, I decided to write an article on how to empower people with hopefulness and confidence about the future or the success of situations viewed at first as tedious.

1. Understand that thoughts are connected to feelings

Interpretation of experiences in a negative and biased way have emotional consequences.

  • negative view of the future
  • expectation than everything to continue the same negative way
  • problems to sustain relationships

Understand that what you think is what you feel.

  • Events trigger your thoughts which then produce your feelings which may then determine your behaviors.
  • Events do not directly produce your emotions.

So you get the idea: feeling and thoughts are connected. So move on and let's identify the dysfunctional thinking to cure bad feelings.

2. Identify the dysfunctional thinking

👎👍All or none thinking

Everything is perceived to be either full on or full off. If something isn’t fully completed, or right, or perfect, then it’s entirely unfinished / wrong / spoiled.

Is it really all or none?

Just because there is one problem does it mean that everything had been ruined?

Are there any positive outcomes?

What is the evidence that everything is wrecked?

👨‍⚖️⚖️ Overgeneralisation

One example of a mistake or error is interpreted as a pattern of mistakes, and errors.

One error does not mean multiple errors.

Can you learn to improve so that it won't happen again?

Does it really mean you have these characteristics all the time?

🔍 Mental filter

One (negative) part of the picture is examined to the exclusion of the larger (positive) part.

Is this 'part' that you are focusing on the real full picture?

Have you misinterpreted the big picture?

🔉 Minimizing the positive

Dismissing or ignoring any positive comment, achievement or compliment.

What is the evidence that the positive comment can be dismissed so readily?

🦘Jumping to conclusions

You think negatively about something without supporting evidence.

There are two errors:

• Mind reading: You think without any evidence that someone is thinking negatively about you.

• The fortune teller error: You truly believe that you know what will happen in the future, without evidence.

Have I any evidence from which to derive this conclusion?

Do I know what that person is thinking?

Do I have any real evidence of what will happen in the future?

🌪️ Catastrophising

Negative things are magnified to seem bigger than they are and positive things are minimised to seem smaller than they are.

Is the problem so big?

Have I not appreciated my achievements?

❤️ Emotional reasoning

Thinking that how you feel inside reflects the true reality. For example, if you feel unloved, you believe that no-one loves you, even if there is evidence that other people care about you a lot.

Just because I feel sad / anxious / upset / miserable doesn't mean I am in reality a miserable, emotionally inadequate person.

Do I really need to feel so miserable about this event? Is it really worthy of my feelings of misery?

👮 Should statement

Thinking in terms of should, must, ought imposes a view about the way the world is which may not tie in with reality, and which induces emotional unhappiness, resentment and guilt.

Why should it be like that? It might be easier if it was that way, but it doesn't mean that it should / must / ought to be like that.

🏷️ Labelling and mislabelling

This is where a person gives themselves or others an unhelpful label based on very little evidence. Such as when a person who makes a joke that falls flat labels themselves a “loser”.

Is that a truly accurate name for that event / that person / for me?

👕 Personalisation

This involves attributing blame to self for an event where the responsibility is not fully yours, only partly yours or not yours at all.

Am I really responsible for that?

Now that you have identified the dysfunctional thinking, it is time to change it to genuine thinking .

3. Change the dysfunctional thinking

🎤 Being a reporter

Being a reporter involves describing events that you get upset by, as if you are a news reporter.

This allows you to step back from your deep involvement and automatic responses, and helps you to distinguish observations from interpretations.

📈 Increasing positive self-interpretations

People vulnerable to depression and anxiety often tell themselves negative things: You might be used to telling yourself how pathetic, miserable and under-deserving you are. In this exercise, it's time to reverse it and credit yourself with some positive statements to replace all those negative ones!

Replace the negative attributes that you seem to ruminate (think constantly) about with positive attributes that you might have.

❓ Surveying the scene

Setting up experiments to test thoughts & interpretations

One further way to deal with warped thoughts is to actually demonstrate that your thoughts are not considered normal or commonplace by others. This is what has been called the "survey method" by Burns and Zarb.

How does it work?

Well, think of the negative and warped interpretations that you might have about certain events. You might ask are they really warped or not?

One way to find out is to ask others of their interpretations of events, and find out if your interpretation of certain events is, in fact, faulty or warped. This can only really be done by you.

🧪 Let's experiment

This method takes some guts, so start slowly and let it develop bit by bit. If you do it, the rewards will be immediately obvious. The main idea is to attempt to test whether your thoughts or views are straight or warpy by changing your behaviour.

Act in direct contradiction to the feelings you have. But take warning… You need to preserve social norms… Don't do any ridiculous things, and don't do anything inconsiderate to others.

⚽ Being your own coach

Talking yourself out of warped thoughts. The aim of this technique is to coach yourself to have better control over your angry outbursts or your anxiety.

You talk yourself out of negative behavior. Many people talk to themselves when they are learning new skills. Take elite athletes…they have a constant inner and outer dialogue with themselves.

📝 Mental bio-feedback

  Mental biofeedback is another method to contest your warpy thoughts.

It involves counting the number of times you notice a negative thought or feeling each day (this technique is mentioned by David Burns).

Mental biofeedback: equipment

For this technique you'll need something that will help you keep track of any negative thoughts or feelings that you have. For example:

  • You can use a small notebook that you can carry with you, or you might prefer to use the notes app on your phone or tablet.
  • A tally counter is a device which helps you keep a record of how many of times you do something. Some tally counters can be worn on your wrist. You use these counters by pressing a button. There are also many tally counter apps that you can download for your phone.
Monitor your negative and warpy thoughts by using the tally counter or notebook every time you notice a negative thought or feeling.  

Once you have handled the dysfunctional thinking, then you can identify its source: your personal vulnerabilities.

4. Identify your personal vulnerabilities

✅ The need for approval

You are very sensitive to criticism and the good opinions of others, you feel the need to keep others happy.

❤️ The need to be loved

You feel happiest when others approve and love you, without it you feel worthless and rejected, if someone you like doesn't like you, you feel unlovable.

🏆 The need to succeed

You feel you must be outstanding in one area at least, you feel inferior and a failure if you do not succeed.

👌 The need to be perfect

If it can't be done perfectly, then there is no point in doing it at all, falling short of perfection is pathetic and a C (even B) grade is unacceptable.

🎖️ The sense of feeling deserving

If you can't get what you are entitled to, then it's not fair, it's unjust, unreasonable and frustrating; if you are kind and thoughtful then others should be kind back.

🧙‍♂️ The sense of being able to influence all things

If something happens, somebody gets upset then it is your fault and you are responsible.

🌌 The sense that happiness is contingent upon external things

You feel you have no control over your emotions, your feelings, that happiness is dependent on external factors.

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