Think Strong. Be Stronger. 10 Ways to Keep Your Thinking Positive.

Think Strong. Be Stronger. 10 Ways to Keep Your Thinking Positive.

Loving life isn’t so much about what we have, but what we think about what we have. That and the people we have around us. One of the best things we can do for ourselves is to make sure we have a strong handle on the way our mind influences our behaviour. First though, we need to be aware of what’s going on upstairs, and the kind of thinking that’s cozying up and positioning itself to frame our feelings and our behaviour.  

There’s a powerful connection between thoughts, feelings and behavior, and one will influence the others. We can work this to our great advantage – if we change one, the others will eventually follow. 

Let me give you an example. Let’s say you want to start an exercise plan. Every cell in your body might feel like resisting. And as for how you feel? Well, more than likely you won’t really ‘feel like it’, because if you did, you probably would have done it before now. So if your behavior is resisting and your feelings aren’t feeling the love for your new plan, how do you change? By changing your thinking. Out of the three – thoughts, actions, feelings – sometimes (not always) thoughts will be the easiest to modify and will lead to the greatest change. 

Aaron Beck was the first person to come up with the concept of  ‘cognitive distortions’ and David Burns extended the idea.

Of course, it’s not for anyone else to tell you whether or not your thinking is distorted. The way you view reality is shaped by a lifetime of experience and sometimes the way you see the world is exactly the way the world is for you. The idea is to challenge whether or not the way you’re thinking is working for or against you. If it’s working well, keep it. If it’s not, experiment with changing it. There is always another way to think about something, and if you don’t like the new way you can always change back, but you never know where a small shift could lead.

Here are some of the common thought patterns that can get in our way:

  1. All or nothing (black and white) thinking. (Trust me, the grey can be lovely.)

    Things either completely are, or they completely aren’t – there’s no grey. If you aren’t perfect, you’re a disaster. If someone doesn’t like you, you’re telling yourself that the whole world probably feels the same. This type of thinking can get in the way of trying new things, having new experiences and meeting new people. Life isn’t all or nothing. Life in the grey zone can be the best part of being human because it’s here that we find our edges and push past them.

  2. Shoulds and shouldn’t. Says who?

    These are the little ‘rules’ we make for ourselves and others. Often, they don’t feel like rules because they’re so automatic and so ingrained that they can pass themselves off more as ‘truths’. Sometimes they make sense, sometimes they’d make good kindling. They’re the ‘shoulds’ and ‘should nots’, the ‘musts’ and ‘must nots’, the ‘oughts’ and the ‘have to’s’. Chances are you took them on as you were growing up – probably from parents, teachers or society, swallowing them whole without really thinking about their usefulness. Here are some common ones:

    •  ‘I should always get it right.’

    •  ‘Everyone should like me.’

    •  ‘I should never say no.’

    •  ‘I shouldn’t make a fuss.’

    Any of them familiar? You might have your own gems. When you think in terms of  ‘shoulds’, you set them as rules for yourself and others. When others break these rules, your might get judgey, indignant or righteous. (It’s okay – we’ve all been there!) When you break them yourself, you might feel guilty or as though you’ve failed.

    Question how useful these rules are for you. Do they motivate you? Restrict you? Open you up? Shut you down? See if you can get a handle on how they influence your behaviour or how they get in the way. When you cut it all away, what are you getting from hanging on to them? Healthy living means being able to respond according to the specifics of a situation not according to a set of rules that have possibly outstayed their usefulness in your life. Life can be pretty wonderful when you colour outside the lines.

  3. Magnification and minimisation. (But we get it the wrong way around!)

    Imagine how life would look if you automatically magnified the good and minimised the bad. Pretty special, right? Problems come when you get it the wrong way round – magnifying the bad and minimising the good. Rather than seeing things as a mixture of good, bad, brilliant, completely rubbish, wonderful, not-great and learning opportunities, magnification involves finding that one single thing that’s not great and then dwelling on it. This sort of thinking shuts down the positive. Nothing and nobody is ever perfect. Look hard enough and there’ll always be something to criticise – always. Similarly, nothing is ever all bad, but if you dwell on the bad, and the good won’t get a look in. Look at things for what they are. Focus on the good, learn what you can from the bad and know that you just got a bit better at this human thing we’re all trying to master.

  4. I control everything. I control nothing.

    This way of thinking centres around the assumption that you have no control over what happens to you. People who tend towards this way of thinking see themselves as being hopelessly barrelled along by fate. There are some things we can control and some things we can’t. It’s important to know the difference and challenge the idea that there’s nothing we can do to change a situation. Sometimes the change lies in the way the situation is being looked at, or the language used to describe it. Instead of ‘I can’t make this relationship work’, a more empowering way to think is, ‘I won’t make this relationship work’ (because I’m not prepared to change into the person I need to be to make it). Instead of ‘I can’t exercise’, try ‘I won’t exercise’ – You’ll either accept where you’re at (nice), or you’ll become so frustrated you won’t be able to stop change even if you tried (go you!) Either way, it’s a win.

    A related problem is assuming control over things you have absolutely no control over. Common culprits are assuming responsibility for the happiness and emotional well-being of everyone around you. Of course, don’t deliberately do things to bring people down, but you don’t need to twist yourself in knots to keep people happy either. People will be sad, angry, and unhappy sometimes. Unless you’ve done something deliberately awful, none of how they feel is likely to be something you can control.

  5. Right-fighting. Putting ‘right’ above everything else.

    Spoiler alert. You won’t always be right. The problem with thinking otherwise is that you’ll go to any lengths to prove yourself right. Make no mistake – you will lose people along the way. You just will. Maybe not in person, but people will just stop listening. Everybody wants to be heard and everybody deserves that. The problem with a desperate quest for ‘rightness’ is that prevents others being heard and validated and it prevents you from opening up to other ways of thinking about things. Respecting another point of view – even if you don’t agree with it – is even more important than being right. It just is.

  6. Personalisation and blame.

    People who personalise take things personally. They might blame themselves for things that have nothing to do with them, which means way too much time is spent feeling guilty. Alternatively, they might blame other people without making any attempt to see how they themselves may have contributed to the problem. Both will lead to a static way of responding to the world that’s tied up in guilt or righteousness. Both will also undermine the capacity to respond to people and situations with flexibility.

  7. Jumping to conclusions – 2 ways.

    The first is mind reading and, as the name suggests, it’s based around the assumption that you know other people’s feelings and the motivations behind their behaviour – particularly their feelings and behaviour towards you. In this case, your assumption is a negative one and is held even though there’s absolutely no evidence. If you don’t stop to check things out, you tend to act as though what you’re thinking it’s true.

    If this is something you tend to do, check out the evidence. Don’t assume that because you think it, it must be true. Over time, we can become fixed on looking at things through a negative filter so it’s important to check things out. 

    The other way you might jump to conclusions is by fortune telling. Here, you predict things will turn out badly, whether or not there’s any evidence suggesting this. Again, you act as though just because you think it, it must be true. Thinking like this will make sure you half live your life. You’ll be less likely to try things and you’ll diminish the potential of experiences by saturating them in negativity before you’ve even begun. Again, look for the evidence and challenge the validity of your assumptions. There’s some pretty wonderful things waiting for you as soon as you stop convincing yourself that everything will end badly.

  8. Labelling.

    Labelling means that let yourself become your shortcomings. Instead of letting yourself off the hook for messing up now and then, you let them become you. A mistake becomes, ‘I’m a jerk/ such a loser / an idiot.’ No actually. You’re not. You made a mistake. We all do. Thank heavens because it’s how we learn. Unless you’re a robot programmed for perfection – which would tend to become dull after a while – your flaws are the things that flourish you. Unless you make mistakes, you can’t learn. Own them. Embrace them. Mistakes are something you do. Not something you are. 

    If you’re one who tends to label, chances are you don’t just do it to yourself, but you do it to other people too. People who label themselves are also likely to label others when they get it wrong, usually with something dramatic and emotionally loaded. Someone who arrives five minutes late becomes a ‘self-centred jerk who doesn’t care about anyone but themselves.’ Now where’s the good in that, hey?

  9. Emotional reasoning.

    ‘I feel it, so it must be true.’ ‘I’m worried about this. So there must be something to worry about.’ ‘I feel stupid. So I must be stupid.’ Rather than questioning how you feel, you assume there is a sound basis for the feeling. The problem is that you start to respond to the world as though what you’re thinking is true.

  10. Overgeneralisation.

    One time becomes ‘always’. One mistake becomes ‘totally.’ If you overgeneralise, you’ll view certain situations or people based on a single event or piece of evidence. If something bad happens, you assume it’s going to keep happening. If something you do doesn’t work out as planned, you assume it’s always going to be that way. Things will go wrong sometimes – that’s a given. To base all future situations on one mistake is the best way to stop a bounce-back and to stop yourself from growing and moving towards the best you can be. You can only be the best version of yourself by learning – and you learn from your mistakes. They can flourish you, or fall you, depending on how you look at it. Up to you.

The first step in nurturing a strong mind is to be aware of the thoughts that drive your behavior. 

Once you can see the thoughts that are holding you back, you can start to let them go. 

Now … go and be amazing.

5 Comments

Richard

Thats sound advice i feel i always fall to one xtreme or the other without a ballance but does one need to be in the right hands for this to happen what if that one needs not force that situation on himself because forcing only makes it one extreme to the other but sure sometimes i have thought 2 myself nd i cant help reacting to everything sometimes what would be the best aource of help if i need a little help to try because i use to ask questions a lot then ya know im quiet a bit shy lol going towards a good way but finding it hard to get there im a complicated soul like others were all the mysteriouse same and i wanna be as good as i possibly can im needing something simple to help with my social anxiety find loads of people nd not knowing what to say to anyone quite outstounding to be honest il look at someone have a bad thought or not and think what do i say ive tepeated myself all my life i go by natural sense of feeling which doesnt happen often anyway gonna try be amazig n at least il try but wish i only knew how gonna have to watch some nice films or ask some advice from some good people medication is something a lot of people said i just wish i knew if it was a good idea or not because i dont know if it makes u weaker inside or better it confusese too much to know an answer for sure and when its ones health u gotta be careful

Reply
Hey Sigmund

Feeling anxious when it comes to new people is really common and you would be surprised how many other people feel the same way. Some people are just better at hiding it than others. If you’re shy it can be hard to know what to say can’t it, but it’s so likely that you’ll never say the wrong thing because you will have thought so much about what to say before you finally say it. If you’re wondering about medication, a doctor would be able to help you to understand what that would mean for you. You’re right – you do have to be careful and it can be really confusing but if you speak to the right people – sometimes that might mean more than one doctor – you can get a clearer idea and will hopefully have enough information to make a decision.

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Behaviour is never from ‘bad’. It’s from ‘big’. Big hungry, big tired, big disconnection, big missing, big ‘too much right now’. The reason our responses might not work can often be because we’ve misread the story, or we’ve missed an important piece of it. Their story might be about now, today, yesterday, or any of the yesterdays before now. 

Our job isn’t to fix them. They aren’t broken. Our job is to understand them. Only then can we steer our response in the right direction. Otherwise we’re throwing darts at the wrong target - behaviour, instead of the need behind the behaviour. 

Watch, listen, breathe and be with. Feel what they feel. This will help them feel you with them. We all feel safer and calmer when we feel our people beside us - not judging or hurrying or questioning. What don’t you know, that they need you to know?♥️
We all have first up needs. The difference between adults and children is that we can delay the meeting of these needs for a bit longer than children - but we still need them met. 

The first most important question the brain needs answered is, ‘Is my body safe?’ - Am I free from threat, hunger, exhaustion, pain? This is usually an easier one to take care of or to recognise when it might need some attention. 

The next most important question is, ‘Is my heart safe?’ - Am I loved, noticed, valued, claimed, wanted, welcome? This can be an easy one to overlook, especially in the chaos of the morning. Of course we love them and want them - and sometimes we’ll get distracted, annoyed, frustrated, irritated. None of this changes how much we love and want them - not even for a second. We can feel two things at once - madly in love with them and annoyed/ distracted/ frustrated. Sometimes though, this can leave their ‘Is my heart safe?’ needs a little hungry. They have less capacity than us to delay the meeting of these needs. When these needs are hungry, we’ll be more likely to see big feelings or big behaviour. 

The more you can fill their love tanks at the start of the day, the more they’ll be able to handle the bumps. This doesn’t have to be big. It just has to be enough. It might look like having a cuddle, reading a story, having a chat, sitting with them while they have breakfast or while they pat the dog, touching their back when they walk past, telling them you love them.

All brains need to feel loved and wanted, and as though they aren’t a nuisance, but sometimes they’ll need to feel it more. The more their felt sense of relational safety is met, the more they’ll be able to then focus on ‘thinking brain’ things, such as planning, making good decisions, co-operating, behaving. 

(And if this today was a bumpy one, that’s okay. Those days are going to happen. If most of the time their love tanks are full, they’ll handle when it drops a little. Just top it up when you can. And don’t forget to top yours up too. Be kind to yourself. You deserve it as much as they do.)♥️
Things will always go wrong - a bad decision, a good decision with a bad outcome, a dilemma, wanting something that comes with risk. 

Often, the ‘right thing’ lives somewhere in the very blurry bounds of the grey. Sometimes it will be about what’s right for them. Sometimes what’s right for others. Sometimes it will be about taking a risk, and sometimes the ‘right’ thing just feels wrong right now, or wrong for them. Even as adults, we will often get things wrong. This isn’t because we’re bad, or because we don’t know the right thing from the wrong thing, but because few things are black and white. 

The problem with punishment and harsh consequences is that we remove ourselves as an option for them to turn to next time things end messy, or as a guide before the mess happens. 

Feeling safe in our important relationships is a primary need for all of us humans. That means making sure our relationships are free from judgement, humiliation, shame, separation. If our response to their ‘wrong things’ is to bring all of these things to the table we share with them with them, of course they’ll do anything to avoid it. This isn’t about lying or secrecy. It’s about maintaining relational ‘safety’, or closeness.

Kids want to do the right thing. They want us to love and accept them. But they’re going to get things wrong sometimes. When they do, our response will teach them either that we are safe for them to come to no matter what, or that we aren’t. 

So what do we do when things go wrong? Embrace them, reject the behaviour:

‘I love that you’ve been honest with me. That means everything to me. I know you didn’t expect things to end up like this, but here we are. Let’s talk about what’s happened and what can be different next time.’

Or, ‘Something must have made this (wrong thing) feel like the right thing to do, otherwise you wouldn’t have done it. We all do that sometimes. What do you think it was that was for you?’

Or, ‘I know you know lying isn’t okay. What made you feel like you couldn’t tell me the truth? How can we build the trust again. Let’s talk about how to do that.’

You will always be their greatest guide, but you can only be that if they let you.♥️
Whenever there is a call to courage, there will be anxiety - every time. That’s what makes it brave. This is why challenging things, brave things, important things will often drive anxiety. 

At these times - when they are safe, but doing something hard - the feelings that come with anxiety will be enough to drive avoidance. When it is avoidance of a threat, that’s important. That’s anxiety doing it’s job. But when the avoidance is in response to things that are important, brave, meaningful, that avoidance only serves to confirm the deficiency story. This is when we want to support them to take tiny steps towards that brave thing. It doesn’t have to happen all at once.l and it doesn’t matter how long it takes. Brave is about being able to handle the discomfort of anxiety enough to do the important, challenging thing. It’s built in tiny steps, one after the other. 

We don’t have to get rid of their anxiety and neither do they. They can feel anxious, and do brave. At these times (safe, but scary) they need us to take a posture of validation and confidence. ‘I believe you, and I believe in you.’ ‘I know this feels big, and I know you can handle it.’ 

What we’re saying is we know they can handle the discomfort of anxiety. They don’t have to handle it well, and they don’t have to handle it for too long. Handling it is handling it, and that’s the substance of ‘brave’. 

Being brave isn’t about doing the brave thing, but about being able to handle the discomfort of the anxiety that comes with that. And if they’ve done that today, at all, or for a moment longer than yesterday, then they’ve been brave today. It doesn’t matter how messy it was or how small it was. Let them see their brave through your eyes.‘That was big for you wasn’t it. And you did it. You felt anxious, and you stayed with it. That’s what being brave is all about.’♥️
A relationally unsafe (emotionally unsafe) environment can cause as much breakage as as a physically unsafe one. 

The brain’s priority will always be safety, so if a person or environment doesn’t feel emotionally safe, we might see big behaviour, avoidance, or reduced learning. In this case, it isn’t the child that’s broken. It’s the environment.

But here’s the thing, just because a child doesn’t feel safe, doesn’t mean the person or environment isn’t safe. What it means is that there aren’t enough signals of safety - yet, and there’s a little more work to do to build this. ‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, it’s about what the brain perceives. Children might have the safest, warmest, most loving adult in front of them, but that doesn’t mean they’ll feel safe. This is when we have to look at how we might extend bigger cues of warmth, welcome, inclusiveness, and what we can do (or what roles or responsibilities can we give them) to help them feel valued and needed. This might take time, and that’s okay. Children aren’t meant to feel safe with every adult in front of them, so sometimes what they need most is our patience and understanding as we continue to build this. 

This is the way it works for all of us, everywhere. None of us will be able to give our best or do our best if we don’t feel welcome, liked, valued, and free from hostility, humiliation or judgement. 

This is especially important for our schools. A brain that doesn’t feel safe can’t learn. For schools to be places of learning, they first have to be places of relationship. Before we focus too sharply on learning support and behaviour management, we first have to focus on felt sense of safety support. The most powerful way to do this is through relationship. Teachers who do this are magic-makers. They show a phenomenal capacity to expand a child’s capacity to learn, calm big behaviour, and open up a child’s world. But relationships take time, and felt safety takes time. The time it takes for this to happen is all part of the process. It’s not a waste of time, it’s the most important use of it.♥️

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