Are your thoughts, both conscious and those just beneath the surface, keeping you from success and living the life you desire? Have you heard the saying, "thoughts are not facts? These thoughts that interfere with health and happiness sneak up on us fast, some louder than others, and many are like background noise wreaking havoc on your life. Many thoughts need to be challenged because they no longer serve you and actually keep you looping in misery or feeling "stuck." One successful and time-tested strategy for working with coaching or psychotherapy clients is helping them learn to notice the "automatic thoughts" that have a deleterious affect on relationships, mood, anxiety, behavior and general outlook contributing to negative quality of life and poor health.
Automatic thinking refers to the automatic thoughts people have in response to things happening around them. The goal is not to judge these thoughts that occur, but to develop awareness and then learn to challenge and replace them with more realistic thoughts thus breaking the cycle of negative impact. I've included a helpful CBT tool from Psychology Tools, a resource that I regularly use with coaching and therapy clients to interrupt negative thinking.
Prompts For Challenging Negative Thinking (Use the list of prompts below to help you assess the truthfulness of your negative thinking).
What thought do you notice?
What to do, and how to think? The best answer may be to take the Middle Path. What follows are tips for individuals who struggle with extremes and "all or nothing" thinking:
1. Be open to seeing things from different angles. There can be many ways to solve a problem. Do some research and investigate how other people have solved similar problems. Who do you admire who may have some good skills in this area? Don't be afraid to ask for help.
2. Change is constant; nothing stays the same, not ever. This is life. Things may feel stressful and hard now, but very few things remain the same. Life may not always feel this difficult.
3. When viewing a problem or situation try to spend some time in the "gray area." Many think in "all or nothing" terms. Extremes in thinking or "black and white" really limits the quality of one's life. Learning to tolerate the "gray" can lead to a richer, fuller and more fulfilling life.
4. What is the Middle Path? It is Balance plain and simple. The middle path is between acceptance and change -- it take both in order to live a balanced life. #shrinkthinks
Questions of the heart: Can I be hungry and experience desire? Can I be hungry for love? Can I desire work and success? Can I allow myself to be nourished by food? Can I experience pleasure and Joy? Can I feel connected and loved by others? Can I feel powerful and effective without feeling guilty? Is it safe for you to feel full, nourished, effective and powerful?
If not, Why?
Develop complete acceptance from within...
This week, as we reviewed distress tolerance and handling difficult emotions in my eating disorder seminar, I was reminded of the concept of "radical acceptance." What does radical acceptance look like?
1. Learning to develop complete acceptance that comes from within.
2. Understand that painful emotions are a part of life -- they are normal and to be accepted.
3. Stop fighting (both emotionally and behaviorally). Learn to accept difficult emotions as a normal part of being human.
Try these strategies borrowed from DBT Therapy: IMPROVE the moment
I Imagery – e.g. visualize yourself in a safe place
M Find some meaning in the situation
P Prayer (what ever form that takes for you) meditation, spirituality, affirmations
O One thing at a time
V Vacation – take some time out of the situation, "me" time, or imagine
yourself in an idyllic situation
E Encouragement – use positive and calming self talk
Go ahead -- try something different!
Instead of looking for problems, scan for areas of acceptance and gratitude.
When you have a crabby habit of mind, you often try to correct imperfect situations and you get overly concerned with other people's faults. You then may do your fair share of "turning against" the "bids" of others. You scan the world for evidence to justify your reactions. (You left the milk out again!) - John Gottman
Some people have a chemical imbalance and may need an antidepressant to improve their mood and chronic irritability, while others need to change the way they respond to triggers and happenings in the environment.
If this describes you, try this shift: Instead of looking for problems, scan for areas of acceptance and gratitude.
Show more love...
According to John Gottman, positive communication in a successful marriage (or relationship I'd add) includes showing interest, showing that you care, showing concern and empathy, and being accepting, even when you don’t necessarily agree with your partner. Give it a try!
Experiences matter more...
The lights, shiny objects and material finds are tempting during the holidays, but do possessions really make us happy? No, says research by Cornell Psychology Professor Thomas Gilovich and colleagues. In fact, their work tells us that experiences, not possessions are the path to happiness. Positive experiences linger long after gifts have lost their appeal. What experiences hold a special place in your heart?
Something to think about. Have a mindfully-experienced holiday.
Every day (or moment) is an opportunity for a fresh start.
Whatever dynamic you find yourself playing out with yourself, a loved-one or a work colleague, pause, notice it and hit the reset button. Fresh start. Notice what you're doing by making a non-judgmental observation. "Oh, this is happening again -- familiar stuff -- I'm feeling triggered!" Perhaps your triggering the other and the dance begins. Shift. Take some space if you need to. The point is... do something different. Don't engage or allow yourself to be pulled-in -- as tempting as it may be -- and stop the bleeding in the moment. This tactic is especially helpful with couples and during the frenetic holiday season. Time spent with family can increase levels of stress, feelings get hurt and destructive behaviours may escalate. (alcohol doesn't help folks!) People tend to regress in response to stress and old patterns -- early dynamics are played out -- in full force. The image of two tarantulas in a jar comes to mind.
It's a new day.
Your problem has been magically solved. What will your life look like now?
Not that your problems aren't real, but sometimes we feel so "stuck" and mired in the "negative" that we loop and loop making it's hard to imagine a different outcome or that circumstances can ever change.
Miracle Question: Imagine that while you are sleeping a miracle occurs. Your problem is solved and as a result other areas of your life will improve too. What’s the first thing you’ll notice as you wake up in the morning? How is life going to be different for you now? Describe it in detail. What will it look like going forward? In other words... focus on the desired future rather than the undesired present.
It's worth giving it a try and it's good to try new things!
"Hear" and "validate" first before you rush to offer a solution.
When someone comes to you with a problem, they want something in return, and it's not always what you imagine. How often do you rush to "solve the problem" or "give advice" when a friend or partner has an issue? According to Dr. Haim Ginott, “Understanding must precede advice.” The seeker likely hopes to be "heard" and "understood" by you first. Practical advice or a solution to their problem can follow a compassionate initial response. Validate emotions. They are all valid!
Couples who create successful and satisfying relationships often have a formula for success. These dynamic couples have important skills and make thoughtful, conscious choices that lead to more closeness and connection. They do and also avoid doing certain things that contribute to creating a robust relationship. John and Julie Gottman of the Gottman Institute, known for their extensive relationship research, would call these smart couples "masters" of relationships. If you desire a dynamic and loving relationship, you may want to consider some important relationship tips that you may or may not have learned along the way. If you adore your partner and value your partnership then noticing the elements that follow may be just what you need for enhanced communication, a deeper connection and more romance.
Let's begin with what NOT to do:
Adults constantly raise the bar on smart children, precisely because they're able to handle it. The children get overwhelmed by the tasks in front of them and gradually lose the sort of openness and sense of accomplishment they innately have. When they're treated like that, children start to crawl inside a shell and keep everything inside. It takes a lot of time and effort to get them to open up again. Kids' hearts are malleable, but once they gel it's hard to get them back the way they were. ~Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore
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