How changing your faulty thinking can improve your life
I think we all have bits of us that we’d like to change, yes? Well, today, we’re going to learn how you can do that when you change your faulty thinking (Cognitive restructuring).
Although it might appear extremely difficult to change our current ways of thinking, it’s actually comparable to most other skills. It’s hard when we first start, but with practice, we’ll find it gets easier to challenge our negative beliefs and thoughts.
Our brains are an amazingly powerful tool that allow us to see, learn, process, remember, understand and create language. Ordinarily, it’s a good thing, because our brain alerts us to risks or threats and finds answers to our dilemas.
But there are also times when the human brain fails us, we second guess what it’s telling us, like “Hmmm, why did Janice just walk past? I must have done something to upset her! She must hate me.” Seems like your brain is purposely telling you lies? Nope, it’s just that it might’ve developed some unhelpful or faulty thinking over time. Janice just didn’t see you, she was in a world of her own. She wasn’t ignoring you or she doesn’t hate you.
So, what is this faulty thinking?
Quite simply, faulty thinking is a pattern of thinking that is self-defeating. An example might be “I failed English, so I must be really stupid!“ It happens when the things you are thinking do not match up with reality. Like in the above event, you passed the other 8 O’levels, so you can’t be stupid.
This is also referred to as Cognitive Distortions, and those who commit such thinking errors don’t always realise they’re doing so. Therefore, they’re unable to change their faulty thinking, which could improve their relationships and life in general.
In 10 thinking errors of depression that could be ruining your life, we looked at Cognitive Distortions. If you haven’t already read it, I suggest you do. By doing so, you’ll gain a much better understanding of the various Cognitive Distortions that many of us have. These are exaggerated or irrational thoughts that cause us to perceive reality inaccurately.
An example might be Jumping to Conclusions: You interpret things negatively when there are no facts to support your conclusion. Your partner’s late coming in from work and you think, “Oh no. He must have had an accident,” or “He must be cheating on me.” But you have no physical evidence.
If this is you, perhaps you want to change your faulty thinking, but you don’t know how, and you wonder………….
What is cognitive restructuring?
Cognitive restructuring, a core part of Cognitive Therapy, is basically working with thoughts that aren’t working for you. Cognitive restructuring:
- is useful for understanding what lies behind negative moods. These may undermine our performance, or damage our relationships with other people
- can help people identify, challenge and change stress-inducing thought patterns and beliefs
- helps us to identify overly-negative habits of thinking which lead to overly-negative mood states
- is a technique that’s been successfully used to help people change the way they think
- according to Mindtools.com it’s a useful technique for understanding unhappy feelings and moods, and for challenging the sometimes-wrong “automatic beliefs” that often lie behind them. Cognitive restructuring helps you to change the negative or distorted thinking that often lies behind these moods according to Mindtools.com.
So, we identify the ineffective patterns of thinking and change them to be more effective. More effective might mean triggering a less negative emotion, enabling more helpful behavior, or seeing things more clearly.
This isn’t about changing negative thoughts and beliefs into happy clappy constant happiness and positivity. Truly, extremely positive thinking can be just as ineffective as extremely negative thinking.
Thoughts of being certain that your interview won’t go well can actually cause it to go badly. But just assuming it’ll go well, no matter what (happy clappy positivity), might cause you to be less concerned about it — also resulting in your interview going badly.
So, now for some examples of cognitive structuring
Lets use stress management, for example. The goal is to replace stress-producing thoughts (cognitive distortions) with more balanced thoughts that do not produce stress.
- We need to identify a situation that leads to stress and the thoughts and feelings that arise in that situation. Presentations at university always induced anxiety and stress for me. My thoughts were about being a failure, stuttering throughout, peers seeing me shake with nerves and they’d think I was stupid.
- Then we challenge the thoughts by determining what is true about them and what is not true about them. I wrote down every negative thought I had about presentations in the left hand column and was able to challenge each of them in turn. Say ‘being a failure’, I looked at the evidence, where I’d always received really positive feedback from my peers after each presentation. My tutor also gave me terrific grades for my presentations. People told me I was good at presenting in my previous jobs. So, it was fair to say that I wouldn’t be seen as a failure now, even if I did fluff my lines once or twice.
- Finally, you develop an alternative and more balanced thought and determine how you will feel when you adopt this new way of thinking. I wrote down more balanced thoughts in the right-hand column, like “I’ve done many presentations before, and they all went well,” or “I’ve never failed a presentation before, so why would I do it now?” I determined that future presentations would go well and I’ll feel proud afterwards.
Adapted from Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Los Angeles
|Start by describing the situation that triggered your negative mood||I made a suggestion at the weekly team meeting and everyone there disagreed with my idea.|
I thought “My idea is sound.”
|Write down what thoughts occured in the situation||I don’t have any good ideas. I am terrible at my job. My colleagues think I’m thick.|
|Feelings||Anxious. stressed, disrespected, ignored and stupid.|
|Evidence that supports the thought||Some colleagues suggested that we don’t have enough money or resources to implement my idea.|
|Evidence that doesn’t support the automatic negative thoughts (ANTs)||Mine wasn’t the only idea that my colleagues disagreed with. A few people did think it was a good idea. I’ve previously been complimented on my ability to think on my feet. I mostly do a good job. Colleagues frequently tell me they like the way I work.|
|Alternative/balanced thought||Colleagues have told me they think that I’m capable and often have good ideas. I regularly do a good job. Okay, that wasn’t one of my best ideas.|
|Observe your mood now, and decide on your next steps||I feel calmer. I no longer feel stressed about this.|
I will continue to practice cognitive restructuring.
|Start by describing the situation that triggered your negative mood||Some friends went out for drinks last week and they didn’t invite me.|
|Write down what thoughts occur||They don’t like me. They think I am boring. They don’t care about me anymore. I’ll end up with no friends soon.|
|Write down what you are feelings||Upset, sad, angry, unloved, and alone.|
|Evidence that supports the automatic negative thoughts (ANTs)||I do get moody sometimes.|
|Evidence that doesn’t support the thought||Friends have told me many times that I’m fun to be around and that I make them laugh. I’m generally invited to most things. Other friends haven’t been invited to all the other activities.|
|Alternative/balanced thought||My friends do like me but that doesn’t mean that they have to invite me to everything.|
|Observe your mood now, and decide on your next steps||I feel less angry, happier and not angry. I’m no longer stressed about this.|
I will continue to practice cognitive restructuring.
Even if you don’t struggle with depression, or any other serious mental health issue, it doesn’t hurt to evaluate your own thoughts sometimes. The sooner you catch a cognitive distortion and start to challenge it, the less likely it is to impact negatively on your life.
Remember though, that if you want to change your faulty thinking, you must practice and keep practising. By doing this you’ll notice how you’ve changed, you’ll be less stressed, your relationships will improve, as will your life in general.
Over to you
What’s your experience with cognitive distortions? Which ones do you struggle with? Have you noticed any ANTs recently and what did you do about them? Maybe you’ve learnt about Cognitive restructuring during Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and you’ve used it effectively (or not)? I’d love to hear about your experiences and I’m happy to answer any questions.