Archive | July, 2011

Dish on Distortions: #3 — Jumping to Conclusions

30 Jul

I’m not a mind reader. I’m not psychic. I can’t claim to have extrasensory perception. But I can attest to knowing a lot of people who do seem to possess these rare skills. Or, at least they act like they do. I suppose I’m not sure if they could actually tell me what I’m thinking right now or show me what is going to happen in my life within the next couple days, but they sure are superior at telling me what will happen in their own lives.

“I’m going to fall when I walk on that stage.”

“If I tell him how I really feel, he’ll laugh in my face.”

“There’s no way I’m going to be able to lift that weight.”

“I’m never going to be able to stop bingeing.”

Such statements I have heard over and over in my work, and each one has no shred of evidence to back it up. When they are thrown out there nonchalantly, impulsively by my clients, they take on immense power. Sound superstitious?

If you think it, you’ll believe it, and you’ll be it.

How often have you performed well when you’ve walked into a situation thinking, “This is going to  be a disaster.”  If you use this strategy to perform at the top of your game, email me. You’re an anomaly, and I must pick your brain. Literally!

Another common thinking error, assumption-making, is often fear-based.  We anticipate without evidence that someone will react poorly toward us, that someone is thinking negatively about us, or that something will turn out badly and not go the way we want it to, for example.

For most it has become automatic. Their mental scripts have been written through years of experiences and within the presence of models, dictating an approach to life that leaves little room for a positive mindset.  I’ve rarely heard a person jump to positive conclusions and have it lead to dysfunctionality!  We can miss the boat by not considering the evidence on either end of the spectrum.  But it should be clear just how damaging making a premature, negative conclusion can be.

Try this the next time you’re in the gym, getting ready to start your monster leg workout. Repeat to yourself, “This is going to be really  hard. I’m not sure I’ll make it through”.

Before you go to  bed tonight, start anticipating that you’re not going to fall asleep.

When your boss walks into your office with a scowl on his face Monday morning think, “He’s really mad at me.”

Report back and let me know how doing this impacted you.

On second thought, don’t. I’d like you to have an over-the-top amazing workout, sleep soundly throughout the night, and understand that your boss may have been the one who didn’t sleep on Sunday  night and that his scowl has nothing to do with you!

Do, however, take note of how often you jump to conclusions. Does doing so limit you from taking risks, moving forward with your goals,  or from creating relationships? Are you fearful of how you will be perceived b/c you assume you’ll look stupid or won’t  have much to offer? If you’re answering yes, it’s time to start taking some chances. Prove yourself wrong. Discover that there is no evidence for your assumptions.

Yeahbut…(Distortion #2)

19 Jul

I know a few yeahbutters. I bet you do too.

When I hear the “yeahbut” my tendency is to do one of two things: 1. go into convincing mode or 2. stop talking all together.  It seems that by operating within either extreme, I can perhaps accomplish receiving some acknowledgment on the part of the yeahbutter OR I can prevent from feeling like I want to ram my head against a brick wall.

The yeahbutter refuses to acknowledge the positive.  “Wow, you look really great, Sheila! You’ve worked really hard a…(cue interruption)”   “Yeahbut…I still have so far to go!”

The yeahbutter, often without thinking, moves from a compliment or a benefit, to a disqualification.  “You only have 3 more assignments to go to finish out this course!”  “Yeahbut, I have barely gotten through the first 7!!”

How frustrating is it to speak with a yeahbutter, to praise a yeahbutter (even though this is often the first instinct due to their lack of recognition)?

The yeahbutter suffers from another cognitive distortion. You read in my last post about black and white thinking and how it creates walls for any person in approaching life with flexibility. Establishing balance when you operate with a dichotomous thought pattern sets you up for feeling like you’re going through a maze with no beginning or end.  Like dichotomous thinking, ‘yeahbutting’ leads you straight toward a life of negativity….a lack of appreciation…and a pretty discouraging and gloomy existence.  Dismal.

The glass half full person doesn’t operate in ‘yeahbut’ land. Disqualifying the positive feels UNnatural to this person.   The individual who wears rose-colored glasses– same thing.

This week do a personal assessment of your use of “yeahbut”.  See if you notice it in others and what feeling it brings to you.  The feeling is likely mirroring what they are experiencing!

In my work I make agreements with my clients– when they begin to say it, I get to interrupt them. A form of thoughtstopping, they learn to catch themselves in order to begin the change process. I think it’s more fun for me than it is for them.  But recognition is the first step.

See if you can move from “yeahbut” to “heck yeah!” 😉

Dish on Distortions (#1)

6 Jul

For the next couple months I’m going to dish out a shovelful of insight into one distortion per week. What do I mean by distortion? We all– yes all (this could be looked at as a distortion as you’ll see shortly)– engage in thinking errors that can lead to barriers in our ability to function optimally.  A cognitive distortion is a faulty thought or belief that creates an ugly, misinformed gap and prevents us from taking positive actions.

For example, take the individual who is dieting for weight loss and eats a brownie at the office.  Co-workers brought in a glorious array of baked goods, and she wanted to partake.  She wrestled with the decision to eat the brownie and her thoughts looked something like this: “I can’t eat that.” “I could eat it, but then my whole day would be ruined.” I’ve had a really good day so far. Am I going to mess it up by eating that?”  She ends up forgoing the brownie. But all she obsessed about for the next hour was the brownie. “I can’t have that. I can’t have that.” ran wild across the marquee of her brain. A sense of urgency overcame her and she rushed to the break room and devoured the cakey goodness. Instant guilt invaded her and she thought, “I can’t believe I just lost control like that. I’m such a failure at this dieting. I’m never going to lose weight. Now I’ve ruined my whole day.” She looked at the tray of desserts and proceeded to eat a few more. “I’ll just start fresh tomorrow,” she thought.

If you can relate: 1. You’re not alone; 2. You can improve with practice; 3. Becoming aware of your thoughts is the first step to changing them.  Notice the black and white thinking– this is cognitive distortion #1. Rigid, unrealistic, dichotomous cognitions set the stage for feeling caged and out of control.  We all need structure, but set up such stringent guidelines and you leave no room for flexibility to enjoy life. A brownie– you can lose weight and eat a brownie. All the time and for every meal? No. But set up a list of forbidden foods (black and white: BAD OR GOOD), and what are the first foods you desire?

Identify your “rules.” Take some time today to pay attention to your thoughts. Write them down. Now examine them. Are they leading you toward growth and setting you up for success?

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