After a long, cold winter, now is the perfect time for a rejuvenating spring cleaning. But don’t limit yourself to emptying your closets and scrubbing the kitchen. Your mind needs a good spring cleaning too.
I suggest you start by de-cluttering your mind and cleaning out your negative thinking patterns to boost your emotional health.
When dealing with stress and anxiety, we tend to think in distorted ways and fall into Emotion Mind and the pitfalls of negative thinking patterns—the complete opposite of Wise Mind Living.
I’ve listed eight of the most common patterns of distorted thinking below, and you’ll probably recognize a few familiar ones that are your personal “go-tos.”
We’ve all engaged in one or more of these patterns of negative thinking, and now it’s time to sweep them up and throw them out with the trash.
Your homework this week is to be on the lookout and notice if you start to engage in any of these negative thought patterns. Usually just noticing that you’re doing it is enough to get you to stop.
Watch out for these Negative Thinking Patterns:
The more stressed out you are, the more likely you are to think in absolutes. In this distorted way of thinking, life is either totally awesome or a complete train wreck—there are no shades of gray.
One way to catch yourself in this pattern of thinking is to watch for interpretations with “always” or “every” or “never” in it: My boss gave Jody a promotion and now I’ll never get a chance to advance.
Jumping to Conclusions
This pattern of thinking comes in two flavors: mind reader and forecaster. Both occur when you draw conclusions about a situation without knowing all the facts.
As a mind reader, you infer someone else’s thoughts, feelings and motivations—you are absolutely sure you know exactly how someone is feeling about you: I just know that Alex didn’t call because he doesn’t think I’m smart enough and doesn’t really like me.
As a forecaster you can also predict the outcome, almost always negative, of things that haven’t happened yet: They are not going to hire me—there is no point in even going on this job interview.
In this way of thinking you tell yourself that the absolute worst will happen, and that a situation is horrific and intolerable. This often shows up as considering all the worst-case scenarios.
An example of this type of thinking would be if you have a disagreement with your spouse and now you’re convinced this means you’re going to end up getting divorced.
Over-generalizing and Labeling
In this kind of distorted thinking you take one piece of negative evidence and use that to draw a general negative conclusion. One common way people over-generalize is to assign labels to situations or people based on limited information.
A good example of this would be when someone turns you down for a date and you think, “I’m such a loser.”
This type of negative thinking is all about musts and shoulds.
When we create rules of how things or people should be, more often than not, no one can live up to these expectations. Then you’re left feeling guilty, angry, frustrated, or resentful, and end up blaming yourself and others for things that aren’t under your (or their) control.
An example of this is when you decide your boyfriend should have known that you wanted to go away for the weekend, and that he’s a terrible partner for not knowing what you wanted.
Discounting the Positive
This is a special form of negativity where you focus on and magnify the negative aspects of a person, situation, or experience. You also filter out any positives or treat them as if they simply don’t count.
An example of this type of thinking could be when you receive a compliment or congratulations and chalk it up to mere flattery.
In this type of negative thinking you think that your emotions are facts—and you don’t make balanced choices or decisions when you’re in Emotion Mind. Because you feel negatively about something, you assume that this is the way things really are.
An example of this is when you go on an interview or take a test and have a bad feeling about how it went. Then you draw the conclusion that the outcome will be horrible because of how you felt. Afterwards you discover that you got the job or a good grade after all, and how you felt was not fact at all.
When using emotional reasoning you might find yourself saying, “If I feel this way, it must be true.”
In this type of negative thinking you over attribute things as either negatively directed at you or feel as if you are responsible for bad things that happen.
An example of this type of thinking could be assuming, “John purposely scheduled the meeting at 8am just to annoy me.”
Erin Olivo, Ph.D., MPH, is an author and licensed clinical psychologist with more than 22-years of experience treating patients in Manhattan. She draws from the philosophical traditions of mindfulness, cognitive behavior therapy and dialectical behavioral therapy. Erin teaches patients how to identify and manage the emotions that might be getting in the way of achieving your goals so they can live a balanced life. Erin’s first book, Wise Mind Living: Master Your Emotions, Transform Your Life, is available now, along with her audio program, Living In Wise Mind: Practices to Master Your Emotions and Transform Your Life. Connect with her via her website, facebook, instagram, and twitter.