How Can I Think More Positively?
By Pamela P. Garcy, PhD
My coaching clients and therapy patients often ask me, "How can I correct my thinking errors?" Thinking errors are those thoughts which we have which lead to contraction and which often get in the way of productive thought, accomplishment, and fulfilment.
These suggestions are based on SOME of what I use when I work with therapy patients and coaching clients. Before I give you these suggestions, know the following points:
- When you are feeling unhealthy negative emotions, you are feeling them for a reason. The reason is usually linked back to your thoughts. Use your unhealthy negative feelings as a signal that it is time to look at what you are telling yourself - what is the story that you tell yourself? What do you allow yourself to believe about the situation?
- As you start the process of correcting your thinking error, remind yourself that thinking errors are normal to make and are encompassed under normal human error. As human beings, we are designed to make mistakes. So, just because YOU make a thinking error, it doesn't make YOU wrong, bad, inadequate, crazy or a loser.
- Why do we make these mistakes in thinking - why are we designed to do so? We do so because we are trying to simplify. We simplify to increase efficiency. The goal of efficiency is to improve our own (1) self-protection and (2) self-enhancement. However, it is when we realize that our thinking errors (1) decrease our self-protection and (2) are usually self-defeating that we begin to allow ourselves to correct these errors.
- Start by identifying the thinking error (see my book The REBT Super-Activity Guide for definitions of the thinking errors below) and then look at the table to find ways to correct it. It takes diligent work to break a habit, but it can be broken.
Here are the corrections I often use with clients, to help correct thinking errors. I hope you can use them too:
TO CORRECT OVERGENERALIZATION:
Look for exceptions to your rule
TO CORRECT BLACK AND WHITE THINKING:
Look for the shades of gray
TO CORRECT LABELING:
Define the label. Find instances in which the person doesn't meet the criterion for the definition.
TO CORRECT MAGNIFICATION & MINIMIZATION:
If exaggerating, try on the understatement. If understating, try on the exaggeration. Then, look at this with relative thinking.
TO CORRECT JUMPING TO CONCLUSIONS:
Slow down and get more data for your conclusion - ask yourself if you have all the information. If you spot yourself fortune telling, do several prediction experiments and see how accurate you are. If you are not 100% accurate, recognize that you don't have a crystal ball.
TO CORRECT MIND READING:
Ask questions to determine whether your assumption about others is right or wrong. Work to find the actual reasons for the person's behavior.
TO CORRECT "SHOULDS," "MUSTS," "HAVE TO'S" AND "NEED TO'S":
Change the demand into a preference OR explain the opposite to "should." Remember that just because someone could, doesn't mean they must.
TO CORRECT BLAMING:
Look for other contributing factors. Draw a responsibility pie chart to determine how much blame could realistically be assigned to one factor.
TO CORRECT IGNORING INFORMATION/SELECTIVE ABSTRACTION:
Open your eyes to remaining information. Ask: what is the rest of the story? If you are focusing on the negative, spend 5 to 10 minutes discussing the positives that you are ignoring.
TO CORRECT "I feel therefore it is so" ALSO CALLED EMOTIONAL REASONING:
Look at the evidence for and against your conclusion. Recognize that your feelings may be related to other causes (for example, something happened earlier, person reminds you of someone, etc.).
TO CORRECT AWFULIZING OR CATASTROPHIZING:
Finish the sentence, "At least......." (For example, at least he still has a job or at least we are still talking.) OR the sentence, "It could be worse. It could be that ........." List lots of examples of how it could be worse. Ask yourself what good could come of this?
TO CORRECT LOW FRUSTRATION TOLERANCE OR "I-can't-stand-it-itis" OR "I want what I want when I want it" THINKING:
Remind yourself that you are already "standing it" or you wouldn't be alive! Then work to develop even higher frustration tolerance and patience. Challenge yourself to tolerate whatever it is that is going on but not focus exclusively on it. When you are not working on reducing the thing that is blocking you from your goal, work on finding things you can enjoy outside of the frustrating event. For example, you can work to accomplish another goal or to find pleasure in another life area.
TO CORRECT FUSION OR "I am my feelings/I am my problems":
Recognize other feelings that you have had in the past that are different from the one you have now. Then remember that just because you feel a certain way, it doesn't make YOU into your feeling. Recognize other problems that you've solved in the past. Then remember that just because you are facing a life problem, it doesn't mean that YOU are the life problem.
Here are some ADDITIONAL TECHNIQUES you can try with any of the thinking errors (these are more techniques I use with my clients): Examining the evidence for and against your idea, experimenting to test your idea, looking at whether the idea is helping you or not, finding other explanations besides your conclusion, asking yourself how you'd talk to a friend in the same circumstance, asking other people how they'd see it, rephrasing what you say to be more kind, confident, etc.
Please note that sometimes people are stuck in an ingrained vicious cycle of thought and benefit from help, which is one aspect of the work I do as an REBT/CBT therapist and coach.
REBT is Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, a therapy founded by Dr. Albert Ellis in the 1950's. It is the first of the Cognitive Behavioral Therapies (CBTs), and since that time CBT also encompasses a variety of additional methods.
In this category of therapy, a person's emotions and behaviors are seen as a direct result of their thinking. Thinking thereby becomes the vehicle through which emotions and behaviors can be changed. Because both healthy and unhealthy emotion are directly related to what we allow ourselves to believe, we can achieve powerful shifts in emotion and behavior by relinquishing ideas which lack validity and utility, and subsequently replacing them with more accurate and helpful realizations. (This is the focus of The REBT Super-Activity Guide, now available on amazon.com.)
I use REBT and CBT principles and techniques in both therapy and coaching. I use this type of therapy when deeper emotional healing is the person's goal. In coaching, people are specifically striving to reach a target goal and a thought process is impeding them from taking an action. Therefore, I also employ techniques from REBT and CBT to (1) help people shift into helpful action and (2) help them to create and sustain motivation as they work to reach their goals.
Once you correct the thinking error, you release the block.
Once you release the block, you can feel relaxed, joyous, peaceful, and harmonious, which I believe are the states which lead to greater self-trust, healthier choices, and better outcomes.
Pam Garcy, PhD is a Psychologist and Coach in Dallas, Texas. If you'd like a partner in reaching your goals and overcoming the obstacles that seem to stand in your way, please contact Dr. Pam for coaching by email or visit My Inner Guide.com. Dr. Garcy offers a special 10% coaching discount to all valued subscribers of Cultivate Life and to customers of Trans4mind.com. Dr. Pam's books include the bestseller, The Power of Inner Guidance: Seven Steps to Tune In and Turn On