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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The temptation to fix their big feelings can be seismic. Often this is connected to needing to ease our own discomfort at their discomfort, which is so very normal.

Big feelings in them are meant to raise (sometimes big) feelings in us. This is all a healthy part of the attachment system. It happens to mobilise us to respond to their distress, or to protect them if their distress is in response to danger.

Emotion is energy in motion. We don’t want to bury it, stop it, smother it, and we don’t need to fix it. What we need to do is make a safe passage for it to move through them. 

Think of emotion like a river. Our job is to hold the ground strong and steady at the banks so the river can move safely, without bursting the banks.

However hard that river is racing, they need to know we can be with the river (the emotion), be with them, and handle it. This might feel or look like you aren’t doing anything, but actually it’s everything.

The safety that comes from you being the strong, steady presence that can lovingly contain their big feelings will let the emotional energy move through them and bring the brain back to calm.

Eventually, when they have lots of experience of us doing this with them, they will learn to do it for themselves, but that will take time and experience. The experience happens every time you hold them steady through their feelings. 

This doesn’t mean ignoring big behaviour. For them, this can feel too much like bursting through the banks, which won’t feel safe. Sometimes you might need to recall the boundary and let them know where the edges are, while at the same time letting them see that you can handle the big of the feeling. Its about loving and leading all at once. ‘It’s okay to be angry. It’s not okay to use those words at me.’

Ultimately, big feelings are a call for support. Sometimes support looks like breathing and being with. Sometimes it looks like showing them you can hold the boundary, even when they feel like they’re about to burst through it. And if they’re using spicy words to get us to back off, it might look like respecting their need for space but staying in reaching distance, ‘Ok, I’m right here whenever you need.’♥️
We all need certain things to feel safe enough to put ourselves into the world. Kids with anxiety have magic in them, every one of them, but until they have a felt sense of safety, it will often stay hidden.

‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what they feel. At school, they might have the safest, most loving teacher in the safest, most loving school. This doesn’t mean they will feel enough relational safety straight away that will make it easier for them to do hard things. They can still do those hard things, but those things are going to feel bigger for a while. This is where they’ll need us and their other anchor adult to be patient, gentle, and persistent.

Children aren’t meant to feel safe with and take the lead from every adult. It’s not the adult’s role that makes the difference, but their relationship with the child.

Children are no different to us. Just because an adult tells them they’ll be okay, it doesn’t mean they’ll feel it or believe it. What they need is to be given time to actually experience the person as being safe, supportive and ready to catch them.

Relationship is key. The need for safety through relationship isn’t an ‘anxiety thing’. It’s a ‘human thing’. When we feel closer to the people around us, we can rise above the mountains in our way. When we feel someone really caring about us, we’re more likely to open up to their influence
and learn from them.

But we have to be patient. Even for teachers with big hearts and who undertand the importance of attachment relationships, it can take time.

Any adult at school can play an important part in helping a child feel safe – as long as that adult is loving, warm, and willing to do the work to connect with that child. It might be the librarian, the counsellor, the office person, a teacher aide. It doesn’t matter who, as long as it is someone who can be available for that child at dropoff or when feelings get big during the day and do little check-ins along the way.

A teacher, or any important adult can make a lasting difference by asking, ‘How do I build my relationship with this child so s/he trusts me when I say, ‘I’ve got you, and I know you can do this.’♥️
There is a beautiful ‘everythingness’ in all of us. The key to living well is being able to live flexibly and more deliberately between our edges.

So often though, the ‘shoulds’ and ‘should nots’ we inhale in childhood and as we grow, lead us to abandon some of those precious, needed parts of us. ‘Don’t be angry/ selfish/ shy/ rude. She’s not a maths person.’ ‘Don’t argue.’ Ugh.

Let’s make sure our children don’t cancel parts of themselves. They are everything, but not always all at once. They can be anxious and brave. Strong and soft. Angry and calm. Big and small. Generous and self-ish. Some things they will find hard, and they can do hard things. None of these are wrong ways to be. What trips us up is rigidity, and only ever responding from one side of who we can be.

We all have extremes or parts we favour. This is what makes up the beautiful, complex, individuality of us. We don’t need to change this, but the more we can open our children to the possibility in them, the more options they will have in responding to challenges, the everyday, people, and the world. 

We can do this by validating their ‘is’ without needing them to be different for a while in the moment, and also speaking to the other parts of them when we can. 

‘Yes maths is hard, and I know you can do hard things. How can I help?’

‘I can see how anxious you feel. That’s so okay. I also know you have brave in you.’

‘I love your ‘big’ and the way you make us laugh. You light up the room.’ And then at other times: ‘It can be hard being in a room with new people can’t it. It’s okay to be quiet. I could see you taking it all in.’

‘It’s okay to want space from people. Sometimes you just want your things and yourself for yourself, hey. I feel like that sometimes too. I love the way you know when you need this.’ And then at other times, ‘You looked like you loved being with your friends today. I loved watching you share.’

The are everything, but not all at once. Our job is to help them live flexibly and more deliberately between the full range of who they are and who they can be: anxious/brave; kind/self-ish; focussed inward/outward; angry/calm. This will take time, and there is no hurry.♥️
For our kids and teens, the new year will bring new adults into their orbit. With this, comes new opportunities to be brave and grow their courage - but it will also bring anxiety. For some kiddos, this anxiety will feel so big, but we can help them feel bigger.

The antidote to a felt sense of threat is a felt sense of safety. As long as they are actually safe, we can facilitate this by nurturing their relationship with the important adults who will be caring for them, whether that’s a co-parent, a stepparent, a teacher, a coach. 

There are a number of ways we can facilitate this:

- Use the name of their other adult (such as a teacher) regularly, and let it sound loving and playful on your voice.
- Let them see that you have an open, willing heart in relation to the other adult.
- Show them you trust the other adult to care for them (‘I know Mrs Smith is going to take such good care of you.’)
- Facilitate familiarity. As much as you can, hand your child to the same person when you drop them off.

It’s about helping expand their village of loving adults. The wider this village, the bigger their world in which they can feel brave enough. 

For centuries before us, it was the village that raised children. Parenting was never meant to be done by one or two adults on their own, yet our modern world means that this is how it is for so many of us. 

We can bring the village back though - and we must - by helping our kiddos feel safe, known, and held by the adults around them. We need this for each other too.

The need for safety through relationship isn’t an ‘anxiety thing’. It’s a ‘human thing’. When we feel closer to the people around us, we can rise above the mountains that block our way.♥️

That power of felt safety matters for all relationships - parent and child; other adult and child; parent and other adult. It all matters. 

A teacher, or any important adult in the life of a child, can make a lasting difference by asking, ‘How do I build my relationship with this child (and their parent) so s/he trusts me when I say, ‘I’ve got you, I care about you, and I know you can do this.’♥️
Approval, independence, autonomy, are valid needs for all of us. When a need is hungry enough we will be driven to meet it however we can. For our children, this might look like turning away from us and towards others who might be more ready to meet the need, or just taking.

If they don’t feel they can rest in our love, leadership, approval, they will seek this more from peers. There is no problem with this, but we don’t want them solely reliant on peers for these. It can make them vulnerable to making bad decisions, so as not to lose the approval or ‘everythingness’ of those peers.

If we don’t give enough freedom, they might take that freedom through defiance, secrecy, the forbidden. If we control them, they might seek more to control others, or to let others make the decisions that should be theirs.

All kids will mess up, take risks, keep secrets, and do things that baffle us sometimes. What’s important is, ‘Do they turn to us when they need to, enough?’ The ‘turning to’ starts with trusting that we are interested in supporting all their needs, not just the ones that suit us. Of course this doesn’t mean we will meet every need. It means we’ve shown them that their needs are important to us too, even though sometimes ours will be bigger (such as our need to keep them safe).

They will learn safe and healthy ways to meet their needs, by first having them met by us. This doesn’t mean granting full independence, full freedom, and full approval. What it means is holding them safely while also letting them feel enough of our approval, our willingness to support their independence, freedom, autonomy, and be heard on things that matter to them.

There’s no clear line with this. Some days they’ll want independence. Some days they won’t. Some days they’ll seek our approval. Some days they won’t care for it at all, especially if it means compromising the approval of peers. The challenge for us is knowing when to hold them closer and when to give space, when to hold the boundary and when to release it a little, when to collide and when to step out of the way. If we watch and listen, they will show us. And just like them, we won’t need to get it right all the time.♥️

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